TACLOBAN, LEYTE PROVINCE, THE PHILIPPINES –Dotted around the storm-wrecked city of Tacloban in the central Philippines are notices thanking not the government, the United Nations, or the Roman Catholic Church. They give gratitude to the Tzu Chi Foundation, a Taiwanese Buddhist charity that made its presence felt in the weeks after a devastating November typhoon. “Maraming Salamat Po [thank you very much] Tzu Chi Foundation,” reads one such cloth banner draped over a ruined shopfront on Tacloban’s smashed-up waterfront, a half mile or so from the town’s main Catholic church, Santo Niño. The Philippines’ 82 million Catholics comprise the third-biggest such population, behind Brazil and Mexico. It is a country known for public displays of devotion, taking in such elemental pageantry as annual voluntary and nonlethal crucifixions in memory of the death of Jesus.
SAN ISIDRO, LEYTE PROVINCE, PHILIPPINES – Early morning, about 5 am on November 8 last, Vilma Carson and her family braced under the kitchen table, praying rosaries as the wind outside whipped up to 200 miles an hour. It was to be a six hour ordeal that ripped the roof off their country home, which sits about a ten minute drive from the town of Palo in Leyte province. Despite the fearsome noise from the wind outside – and inside, once the roof was torn off – the schoolteacher listened for the beep of her phone, alerting her when husband George texted from Dubai, where he is one of the ten million plus Filipino emigrants working overseas. “He said to pray, so we hid under the table, but we were so frightened,” the mother recalls, now smiling, recalling the tribulation she shared with her two teenage daughters and 11 year old son.
PALO, LEYTE PROVINCE, Philippines — With tradesmen sawing and welding and hammering twenty feet up on scaffolding, and clattering rain pouring down through a gaping hole in the roof, it wasn’t a typical baptismal setting — especially one inside a cathedral. But on Christmas Eve in Palo, a town of around 60,000 people in the typhoon-hit central Philippines, 47 pairs of new parents formed a line from altar to door inside the wrecked Palo Cathedral, undaunted. Newborns nestled in their mothers’ arms for a Christmastime mass baptism into the Catholic Church — the majority faith in this archipelagic country of 105 million people. The joy of new life and the Christmas holiday comes on the heels of colossal tragedy, however, with Palo part of a region where at least 6,100 people were killed and 4 million left homeless by Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Typhoon Yolanda. The Nov. 8 tempest was by many accounts the most powerful storm ever recorded.