Simbang Gabi: A child's prayer for Yolanda victims
TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines – Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) may have swept away thousands of people and flattened houses in Tacloban, but it did not wash away a Christmas tradition religiously observed in the city.
Hundreds of people flocked to Sto Niño Church on Monday, December 16, the first day of Simbang Gabi (Night Mass) that culminates in the Christmas Eve Mass or Misa de Gallo.
Even before the church bell rang at 3:30 am, 10-year-old Ambal Iglesias, who lives in an evacuation center across the church, got up to attend the mass that began the 9-day countdown to Christmas Day.
Iglesias grew up with relatives observing the cherished Filipino custom that has been practiced since the Spanish colonial period. He always looked forward to seeing the colorful lanterns that hung from the ceiling of the church and to tasting local delicacies like puto bumbong, bibingka, and other rice pastries sold outside the church.
Dim lights and death
On Monday, Iglesias went to church with his friends from the evacuation center – Jinggoy, 9, and Juan, 8.
But things changed after the super typhoon devastated the city. A few bulbs and lanterns lit the church. Decorations were not as elaborate as in the previous years. Hardly anyone dressed up for the traditionally blissful gathering.
"Maupay hiya kay waray katanggal an atop han pagbagyo han una. Yana diri na kay guti-ay na la it mga tawo, ngan damo an nagkamatay ha amon," he said. (It was better before because the typhoons did not blow away the roof of the church. Now, the ceiling was destroyed, fewer people attend the Mass, many died.)
Four of Iglesia's relatives could no longer accompany him to church – his grandmothers Soledad and Ising, his aunt Annalyn, and his 6-year-old cousin John Rey Atendido.
They all died after the storm surge receded. As of Sunday, December 15, at least 2,600 people were reported dead and about 800 missing in Tacloban City.
Iglesias could not believe that his cousin, Atendido, is already gone. He said they were playing the day before the storm in Barangay 31, where they live.
He particularly missed his Lola Soledad, whose hand he loved to kiss every time he would see her to show how he respected and adored her. He was his grandmother's favorite, he said, remembering the robot and other Christmas gifts he received from her in the past.
Focus on the manger
Iglesias said he and his friends heard Mass to pray for his relatives who did not survive the storm.
Before the Mass, as the bell started to ring, they recited the prayer "Angel of God" in silence, gazing at the dimly lit Belen (a tableau showing the birth of Jesus) beside the altar.
"Gusto ko silang pumunta sa langit (I pray that they will go to heaven)," Iglesias said, trying to hold back his tears by covering his eyes with the hood of his oversized sweater.
Iglesia's prayer was the theme of the officiating priest's homily. The Yolanda tragedy "deprived us of the lights and glitter that go along with the season," but it also provided the survivors an opportunity, Sto Niño parish priest Monsignor Alex Opiniano said.
"We can now focus on the manger. This crisis has somehow allowed us to be focused on the more essential, the most important considerations in celebrating a meaningful and fruitful Christmas," Opiniano stressed.
For Nerio Atendido, who lost his son John Rey and 3 other relatives, a meaningful Christmas means having peace of mind for him to move on with his other son who survived the calamity.
"It akon wish nag tatagan hin kalamrag hit huna-huna kay yana medyo masirom pa, masakit pa. Tagan ak hit kusog nag maka-surpass it amon problema (I pray for peace of mind because it is still painful. May I be granted the strength to surpass this problem)," Nerio said.
He missed Simbang Gabi last year. This time, he vowed to complete the 9-day novena masses for his prayer to be granted.
His son, still in shock, only had one request – a new shirt. He said he lost everything when he jumped for his life together with his older brother, mother, and grandmothers during that tragic morning. – Rappler.com