30 November 2013

'Therefore you also must be ready . . .' Sunday Reflections, 1st Sunday of Advent Year A

The Great Flood, Bonaventura I. Peeters [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)                                  

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Gospel Matthew 24:37-44 (New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition: Canada) 

Jesus spoke to his disciples:

“As the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.

Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.

“Keep awake, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.
Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Tropical Storm Washi/Sendong, 16-17 December 2011
The footage above is of Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental, and was made by Mark Anthony Besario.

In February 2000 a friend of mine, Daisy, an engineer who teaches at Xavier University, Cagayan de Oro, was travelling home to Ozamiz City for the weekend. This involved a journey of about three or four hours by road to Mukas, Kolambugan, Lanao del Norte, where the bus then went on board a ferry for the 20-minute trip across Panguil Bay to Ozamiz City. While waiting for the bus to take the next ferry from Mukas Daisy got off and bought some crabs, a favourite with Filipinos.

Because of the crabs Daisy went up on the upper deck of the ferry instead of sitting in the bus. Halfway across the bay there was a huge explosion. 37 passengers on the three buses on board were killed and others injured.

Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. We could add, Two women will be travelling together in a bus; one will be taken and one will be left.

On Thursday 21 November Pope Francis met the Filipino community in Rome in St Peter's Basilica. With them, in the light of the recent calamities in the Philippines, a powerful earthquake in October and Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda in November, he asks why these things happen.

Pope Francis doesn't offer any easy answers. He encourages us to ask God 'Why?', like little children, as this will catch the attention of our loving Father.

The ending of the old liturgical year and the beginning of the new both remind us of the importance of being ready whenever the Lord comes. This readiness is essential both for the individual and for the whole Christian community. When Jesus returns will he find that we have built a community where God's justice reigns? At the moment of the death of each of us will be in a right relationship with God? Will we have directed our lives towards him?

The old hymn, O Christ who art the light and day, a translation by R. R. Terry of the original Latin Christe Qui Lux Es Et Dies, in a setting here by English composer William Byrd, is often sung as part of Compline, the Night Prayer of the Church. It is a hymn that recognises the reality of sin but also God's desire to protect us. Though it's not specifically an Advent hymn it recalls the purpose of that blessed season that we are just beginning: to prepare to celebrate the First Coming of Jesus at his birth but also to prepare for his daily coming into our lives and for his Second Coming at the end of time.

Antiphona ad Introitum   Cf. Psalm 24:1-3.

Ad te levávi ánimam meam, Deus meus, 
in te confído, non erubéscam. 
Neque irrídeant me inimíci mei, 
étenim univérsi qui te exspéctant non confundéntur.

Entrance Antiphon.   Cf. Psalm 24:1-3.

To you, I lift up my soul, O my God.
In you, I have trusted, let me not be put to shame.
Nor let my enemies exult over me, 
and let none who hope in you be put to shame.

Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, 2013

Bishop Luis Antonio Tagle of Imus, now Cardinal-Archbishop of Manila, 2010.

22 November 2013

'Today you will be with me in Paradise.' Sunday Reflections, Christ the King, Year C

CrucifixionPedro de Campaña, c.1550 [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)                                  

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

And the people stood by, watching; but the rulers scoffed at Jesus, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!" The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him vinegar, and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews." One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!" But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." And he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." And he said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." 

Responsorial Psalm (New American Bible Lectionary)

A Dominican friar in Ireland told me three years ago or so about one of his confreres who was to celebrate Mass one morning in a nearby Sisters' convent. Since it was only a short walk he decided to wear his habit. (It was the Dominican habit that first caught my imagination about the priesthood when I was six or seven, though later on I never considered joining the Dominicans.) Along the way the friar met a Sister from another convent who chided him for being so 'old-fashioned' or 'pre-Vatican 2' or words to that effect. A little further on a young man stopped him. This was the conversation that followed:

You're a priest, right?


Well I'm getting married tomorrow and I need to go to confession.

So Father heard the young man's confession on the street and went on his 'pre-Vatican 2' way to celebrate Mass.

Today's Gospel shows us Jesus hanging on the Cross under a sign that said in Greek, Hebrew and Latin 'King of the Jews'. And the Kingdom he came to establish broke through in the conversation between him and one of the two thieves crucified with him. 

The brief conversation that St Luke records shows us what the Sacrament of Confession is all about. This young man acknowledged his sinful ways and accepted the punishment he received. He recognised the innocence of Jesus and saw in him something that spoke profoundly to him of God's love and mercy. It is very unlikely that he could see that Jesus was indeed God who became Man. But he saw in him a man of God and saw in some way the true nature of the Kingdom that Jesus had established.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.

Fr William Doyle SJ (1873 - 1017) 

The June 2013 issue of The Pioneer, the magazine of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association has an extraordinary story of how a young woman received the grace of forgiveness in baptism hours before her execution for murder in England just over a century ago. Snatched from the Brink tells how a young woman, Fanny Cranbush, a former prostitute, had asked if she could see a priest whose name she didn't know and had no idea where he was.

Through God's grace the priest, Fr Willie Doyle SJ, who was to die in Belgium on 16 August 1916 as a chaplain in the British army during the Great War, was located, travelled across from Ireland and spent the last few hours with Fanny. She wanted to be baptised and was also able to receive her First and Last Holy Communion as Fr Doyle celebrated Mass with her in her cell. The Bread of Life was the last food she ate.

A couple of years before this Father Willie had been giving a mission in a parish in the east of England. He had been hearing confessions well into the night and happened to pass Fanny on the street as he went to his lodging and she was plying her 'trade'.

Father Doyle was totally in the dark when he arrived at the prison but Fanny reminded him of their previous encounter.

You said to me, ‘Child, aren’t you out very late? Won’t you go home? Don’t hurt Jesus. He loves you.’ You said this so gently, so appealingly, and then you gave me a look that seemed to go right through me.

The memory of those words were what led her to the moment when she knew that Jesus was speaking the same words to her as she went to her execution that he spoke to the thief on the cross on his right: Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.

Probably the most central theme of the teaching of Pope Francis is God's mercy. He speaks of the Sacrament of Confession in that context. Last Wednesday he told the thousands gathered in St Peter's Square that he goes to confession himself every two weeks because he is a sinner. He spoke especially to priests about their responsibility of being merciful.

Here is the English version of the Pope's talk read by a speaker. I've highlighted some parts of it.

Dear Brothers and Sisters: Today I would like to speak again on the forgiveness of sins by reflecting on the power of the keys, which is a biblical symbol of the mission Jesus entrusted to the Apostles. First and foremost, we recall that the source of the forgiveness of sins is the Holy Spirit, whom the Risen Jesus bestowed upon the Apostles. Hence, he made the Church the guardian of the keys, of this power. The Church, however, is not the master of forgiveness, but its servant. The Church accompanies us on our journey of conversion for the whole of our lives and calls us to experience reconciliation in its communal and ecclesial dimension. We receive forgiveness through the priest. Through his ministry, God has given us a brother to bring us forgiveness in the name of the Church. Priests, who are the servants of this sacrament, must recognize that they also are in need of forgiveness and healing, and so they must exercise their ministry in humility and mercy. Let us then remember always that God never tires of forgiving us. Let us truly value this sacrament and rejoice in the gift of pardon and healing that comes to us through the ministry of priests.

As a priest who is, as every priest should be, familiar with both sides of the confessional box, I am truly grateful to Pope Francis for reminding us so often of God's love, of the reality of sin and of the Devil, of the reality of God's mercy, expressed most especially through the beautiful Sacrament of Confession/Penance/Reconciliation/Forgiveness.

About 15 minutes before he died on the battlefield while trying to rescue a wounded soldier Fr Willie Doyle, who had an extraordinary gift of bringing hardened sinners back to God, himself went to confession for the last time.


May I ask your prayers as I make a retreat from 25 to 30 November. Thank you.

The Mass in the video above, in which today's Entrance Antiphon was sung, was celebrated in Westminster Cathedral, London, on 18 September 2010 during the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Britain. The longer form, used in what is now called the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite - 'The Old Mass', 'The Tridentine Mass' - is sung, as it may be in the Ordinary Form.

Antiphona a introitum   (Revelations 5:12; 1:6)

Dignus est Agnus, qui occísus est, 
accípere virtútem et divinitátem 
et sapiéntiam et fortitúdinem et honórem. 
Ipsi glória et impérium in saecula saeculórum.

[V. (Ps. 71: 1) Deus, judícium tuum Regi da: et justítiam tuam Fílio Regis. v. 
Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. 
Sicut erat in principio et nunc et semper 
et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.]

Entrance Antiphon   (Revelations 5:12; 1:6)

How worthy is the Lamb who was slain, 
to receive power and divinity, 
and wisdom and strength and honour.
to him belong glory and power for ever and ever.

21 November 2013

Tacloban, Philippines, destroyed twice before by storms

Home destroyed by Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda, Tacloban City, Philippines
Philippine historian Ambeth R. Ocampo had a very interesting story in his column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer yesterday, 20 November. Tacloban was destroyed twice before by violent storms, in 1897 and in 1912.
Mr Ocampo quotes from an Australian newspaper, Barrier Mariner, 12 January 1898 [emphasis added]:
TYPHOON AND TIDAL WAVE IN THE PHILIPPINES. 7,000 Lives Lost. Mail advices, brought by the steamer Gaelic from Chinese and other ports in the Far East, contain details of the fearful destruction wrought in the Philippine Islands by the typhoon and tidal wave during October [1897]. It is estimated that 400 Europeans and 6,000 natives lost their lives, many being drowned by the rush of water, while others were killed by the violence of the wind. Several towns have been swept or blown away. The hurricane first struck the Bay of Santa Paula, and devastated the district lying to the south of it. No communication with the neighborhood was possible for two days. The hurricane reached Leyte on Oct. 12, striking Tacloban, the capital, with terrific force, and reduced it to ruins in less than half an hour. The bodies of 126 Europeans have been recovered from the fallen buildings. Four hundred natives were buried in the ruins
Tacloban City, 14 November 2013

The Washington Herald of 20 November 1912 reports: 
15,000 DIE IN PHILIPPINE STORM. That 15,000 persons were probably killed and wounded in a typhoon that swept the Philippine Islands last Tuesday was reported yesterday in cable dispatches to the Bureau of Insular Affairs.
The typhoon swept the Visayas and is said to have practically destroyed Tacloban, the capital of Leyte, and to have wrought enormous damage and loss of life at Capiz, the capital of the province of CapizTacloban has a population of 12,000. Capiz has a population of over 20,000. Capiz is the terminal of the railroad from Iloilo. It is a most important sugar port.

The first news of the catastrophe came in a dispatch of the governor general of the Philippines. No figures of the dead or injured were given, but it was stated that probably half the population of the two cities had been lost. The governor general sent his dispatch on Thursday. He informed the department that he was rushing a shipload of food, clothing and all available medical supplies to Tacloban. All telegraphic communication has been destroyed, and it is impossible to get other than vague reports of the extent of the disasterThat Tacloban has suffered an enormous loss of life is believed to be certain. Following the receipt of the dispatch announcing the heavy casualties in the Visayas, the Red Cross prepared to rush a relief fund to the governor general. The Washington office has cabled the insular government asking how great is their need.

The town of Capiz referred to is now Roxas City. It now has a population of more than 156,000 while before Haiyan/Yolanda Tacloban City had a population of around 220,000. During the 1912 typhoon they had around 20,000 and 12,000 respectively. This suggests that relative to the population the typhoon 101 years ago was more devastating than Haiyan/Yolanda was. But the reports also imply that twice before Tacloban and other towns rose from post-typhoon ruin.

One of the ironies of Haiyan/Yolanda is that just as in 1912 All telegraphic communication has been destroyed and yet the world's media were able to show us live what was happening in Tacloban City and elsewhere this time.

Mr Ocampo ends his column with this statement: All of the above suggest we do not learn from history.
His statement also suggests to me that while we have to try to analyze climatic events and calamities to see if climate change and global warming are a major factor in storms such as Haiyan/Yolanda and to ask if we humans are responsible for this, we also have to ask other questions.

Haiyan/Yolanda approaching the Philippines, 7 November 2013.

19 November 2013

Pope Francis: 'What do you think? That today human sacrifices are not made? Many, many people make human sacrifices and there are laws that protect them.'

Yesterday, 18 November, Pope Francis spoke very pointedly in his homily in which he asked 'What do you think? That today human sacrifices are not made? Many, many people make human sacrifices and there are laws that protect them'.

The pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute gives some statistics for the USA (emphasis added):

In 2008, 1.21 million abortions were performed, down from 1.31 million in 2000. However, between 2005 and 2008, the long-term decline in abortions stalled. From 1973 through 2008, nearly 50 million legal abortions occurred.

Non-Hispanic white women account for 36% of abortions, non-Hispanic black women for 30%, Hispanic women for 25% and women of other races for 9%. [The United States' Census Bureau states that in 2012 Black or African Americans constituted 13.1 percent of the population.]

Here is the text of Vatican Radio's report on the Pope's homily. [The readings for yesterday's Mass are here.]

(Vatican Radio) Drawing inspiration from a reading in the Book of the Maccabees, Pope Francis warned the faithful to be attentive in our secularized and pleasure-seeking life-style which often attacks the Church and imposes unjust rules on Christians.
Listen to Linda Bordoni's report... 
Referring to the first Reading of the day, the Pope spoke of the passage which portrays the effort by the Jews to regain their cultural and religious identity after Antiochus IV Epiphanes suppressed the observance of Jewish laws and desecrated the temple after having convinced the people of God to abandon their traditions.
Lord, the Pope prayed, give me the discernment to recognize the subtle conspiracies of worldliness that lead us to negotiate our values and our faith.
During his homily, Pope Francis warned the faithful against what he described as a “globalized uniformity” which is the result of secular worldliness.
Often he said, the people of God prefer to distance themselves from the Lord in favour of worldly proposals. He said worldliness is the root of evil and it can lead us to abandon our traditions and negotiate our loyalty to God who is always faithful. This – the Pope admonished – is called apostasy, which he said is a form of “adultery” which takes place when we negotiate the essence of our being: loyalty to the Lord.
And he spoke of the contradiction that is inherent in the fact that we are not ready to negotiate values, but we negotiate loyalty. This attitude – he said – “is a fruit of the devil who makes his way forward with the spirit of secular worldliness”.
And referring again to the passage in the Book of Maccabees, in which all nations conformed to the king’s decree and adopted customs foreign to their culture, the Pope pointed out that this “is not the beautiful globalization, unity of all nations, each with their own customs but united, but the uniformity of hegemonic globalization, it is – he said - the single thought: the result of secular worldliness”
And Pope Francis warned that this happens today. Moved by the spirit of worldliness, people negotiate their fidelity to the Lord, they negotiate their identity, and they negotiate their belonging to a people that God loves.
And with a reference to the 20th century novel “Lord of the World” that focuses on the spirit of worldliness that leads to apostasy, Pope Francis warned against the desire to “be like everyone else” and what he called an “adolescent progressivism”. “What do you think?” – he said bitterly – “that today human sacrifices are not made? Many, many people make human sacrifices and there are laws that protect them”.
What consoles us – he concluded – is that the Lord never denies himself to the faithful. “He waits for us, He loves us, He forgives us. Let us pray that His faithfulness may save us from the worldly spirit that negotiates all. Let us pray that he may protect us and allow us to go forward, leading us by the hand, just like a father with his child. Holding the Lord’s hand we will be safe”.

15 November 2013

'There will be great earthquakes . . .' Sunday Reflections, 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Sto Niño Basilica, Cebu City, Philippines, 15 October 2013

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)                                  

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

And as some spoke of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, Jesus said, "As for these things which you see, the days will come when there shall not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down." And they asked him, "Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign when this is about to take place?" And he said, "Take heed that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name, saying, 'I am he!' and, 'The time is at hand!' Do not go after them. And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified; for this must first take place, but the end will not be at once." 

Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name's sake. This will be a time for you to bear testimony.  Settle it therefore in your minds, not to meditate beforehand how to answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.  You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and kinsmen and friends, and some of you they will put to death;  you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives."

Tanauan, Leyte, after Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda 8 November 2013

Sr Maricel Fuerza TC and Sr Reah Lei Talibas TC are friends of mine, members of the Capuchin Tertiary Sisters of the Holy Family. They both happen to be in the same small community at the novitiate of the Sisters in Talisay City, Negros Occidental, just north of Bacolod City.

Sr Maricel is from Catigbian, Bohol, very near the epicentre of the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that hit Bohol and other parts of the Visayas, noticeably Cebu, the morning of 15 October. Her family home was destroyed, though nobody was hurt.

Sister Maricel is on the left.

Sr Rhea Lei is from Tanauan, Leyte, a coastal town south of Tacloban City that has been featured so much in the news since Super typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda passed through the central Philippines on 8 November. Her family home too was destroyed though all are safe. Sister texted me the other day that her family were suffering from hunger because of the lack of food and water. She texted later 'I desire to go [home] but I feel helpless at this time'.

Sister Rhea Lei is on the far left.

A word I have often used about the people of the Philippines is 'resilience'. Many reporters, foreign and Filipino, have been seen that resilience this last week. I have seen it so many times. I remember travelling on a bus nearly 40 years ago in northern Mindanao sitting next to a young couple with two or three very young children and two or three bags. I didn't really find out their story but I knew they were moving to another place to make a new start. Jesus tells us at the end of today's gospel, By your endurance you will gain your lives.

People here, especially those who are poor or without influence, are long-suffering. Sometimes this can result in an unhelpful passivity. But the other side of that is an extraordinary resilience when disaster strikes. Very often this is an expression of deep faith. I saw on TV a shot of people kneeling and praying in front of a statue of Our Blessed Mother in one of the churches in Tacloban City. These were people left with nothing who had probably lost family members or others close to them.

The Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the Redemptorist church in Tacloban, is sheltering 200 to 300 families,  the pews serving as beds. A BBC reporter there described Fr Edwin Bacaltos CSsR, the parish priest and whom I know, as a genuine good shepherd. And it was stated that, as usual, there would be four Masses on Sunday.

Though there has been some looting, what I saw on TV showed an 'orderliness' of some kind, even though some were taking goods that couldn't possibly be of any use. I have been struck by the orderliness of very long queues of people, young and old, waiting patiently  and with hope for food and water, even when hardly anything is available.

Christ on the Sea of Galilee, 1854, Eugène Delacroix [Wikipedia]

I know that the Church in some countries will have special collections for the victims of Haiyan/Yolanda. I know that people will be very generous, as so many have been already.

'I have returned', 1944, Gulf of Leyte [Wikipedia]

An iconic photo from World War II is that of General Douglas MacArthur landing at Tacloban to help, with the aid of both American and Filipino soldiers (the soldier with the helmet behind General MacArthur is Philippine General Carlos P. Romulo), to liberate the Philippines from the Japanese. 69 years later an American aircraft carrier has arrived in the same area to help, with many others, to liberate the people of Leyte from their present misery. The 'many others' include not only countless Filipinos but people on board ships sent by the United Kingdom and Japan. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom Jesus tells us, That was the reality in the Pacific War 70 years ago but now former enemies are working together to help the victims of what is said to be the strongest storm ever to hit land.

Surely this is a symbol of God's presence just as Jesus, God who became man, was present while asleep on the boat in the middle of a storm.

Filipinos have a great devotion to the Sto Niño, the Child Jesus. The video at the top shows the bell tower of the Sto Niño Basilica in Cebu being destroyed by the earthquake. The main church in Tacloban City is also named after the Sto Niño. I used the video below earlier in the week. The hymn to the Sto Niño of Tacloban was recorded in that church, which is seen in the video. The hymn, both the words and the way it is sung, captures for me something of the faith and hope of Filipino Catholics, in this instance those in the region that has been most severely stricken, a trust in God's love and mercy. The people fervently sing as they ask the Holy Child of Tacloban not to leave them.

He won't.

Shortly after I uploaded Sunday Reflections I received the following reflection from a friend in Manila, not as a response but by coincidence.

Calamities, natural and man-made have besieged our country in recent months and years, with increasing frequency, intensity and horror. As Christians, how do we witness about God, to a man cradling his lifeless daughter in his arms, or a child made orphan by surging sea and homeless by howling wind, or a community whose locus of worship for centuries has been reduced to a pile of rubble in seconds? Is God punishing us? As Catholics, fortified by the Year of Faith, we can never ever believe that. Instead, we witness to a God of love, as we help bury the dead, feed, clothe, shelter the living, comfort the grieving. We cling to our faith in a God who brings good out of evil, for our sake and for those who are on the verge of losing their faith. The good has started coming, in the deluge of donations, equipment, rescue and medical missions, from all over the world – even from those, with whom, we have had differences. Indeed, natural calamities make humankind realize how fleeting is life, how fragile is our shared planet. Reminded of how helpless we truly are, we raise our hearts in prayer, our arms in surrender, like children asking to be carried, confident, that our Father will scoop us up in His arms and carry us home.



13 November 2013

'We may have ratified our own doom.' Aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda in Tacloban City, Philippines

The photos above were uploaded on October 30 on her Facebook account by my friend Rhea Gladys Mae Sarigumba, a social worker who lives in Tacloban City. She is with one of her two daughters in the top right while her mother Mrs Vicenta Matildo is in the photo below with her to granddaughters, the children of Rhea and her husband Rogel who is pictured in the top right with his two daughters, his mother-in-law Vicenta and sister-in-law Lalai with her daughter Barbie.

Rhea with her husband Rogel and their daughters whose nicknames are 'Xycy' and 'Xie Ann'.

I've had no news about Rhea since Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda hit Tacloban City early on Friday morning, 8 November. One of the last entries by Rhea on the timeline of her Facebook is a link to an update on the approaching storm on the website of PAGASA, the national weather bureau in the Philippines issued at 6AM on 7 November, less than 24 hours before it hit the islands of Samar and Leyte in the Eastern Visayas. ('PAGASA' is an acronym but in the Visayan languages, spoken in the hardest-hit areas, it means 'hope'.)

Rhea's very last entry on Facebook, dated 7 November, was How can I sleep when 
all I hear is raindrops.. #kanta lang teh? (Just sing?)

Vicenta, Rhea's mother left Surigao del Norte in Mindanao, where she lives, for Tacloban City on Sunday but I haven't heard from her since. However,  a mutual friend and neighbour of Vicenta texted me this morning that Vicenta's mother and her sisters are all safe as they had evacuated before the storm hit.

This afternoon I received a text message from another Rhea, Sr Rhea Lei Tolibas TC, a young religious of the Capuchin Tertiary Sisters of the Holy Family who is based in the novitiate of the Sisters just north of Bacolod City. She's from Tanauan, Leyte, seen at the beginning of the video above, a coastal town about 45 minutes south of Tacloban City. Her family are safe and in an evacuation centre but lack food and water. Sr Rhea mentioned that people are desperate. 

BBC World reported this afternoon, Wednesday, that eight people had been killed while a crowd stormed a storehouse looking for food.

The website of the Mercy International Association carries this report of damage to the hospital and school of the Mercy Sisters in Tacloban:

As a human tragedy, the scale of the disaster is so enormous that it is almost beyond our comprehension. What makes this tragedy especially compelling for us is that our own Sisters are significantly effected. The new Mother of Mercy hospital at Tacloban is 50% damaged, the Holy Infant school and college 75% damaged, the Convent in Mindanao badly damaged and the food supplies have run out. It is,of course, impossible to make direct contact with our Sisters, but our understanding is that no Sister is hurt, thank God. However, news has filtered through that some of our Sisters' families are harmed or missing. In the midst of this disaster, these Sisters of Mercy continue to bring human and spiritual comfort and support to all in such drastic need around them.

Six Irish Mercy Sisters from St Maries of the Isle, Cork, went to Tacloban in 1954 at the invitation of Bishop Lino Gonzaga of Palo. That original group grew into a new congregation of Mercy Sisters that now has 47 members, all Filipinos, working in a number of areas. Education and medical care have always been central to Mercy Sisters. Mother of Mercy Hospital, Tacloban City, was one expression of that. 

The six Irish Sisters were asked to take over the running of an already established school that has grown into Holy Infant College (HIC). Ironically, the thene for the 87th anniversary of the establishment of the school was Responding to the Challenges of Climate Change.

Yeb Saño, Climate Change Commissioner of the Philippines and a delegate to the 2013 Climate Change Conference in Warsaw speaks very movingly about the impact of Haiyan/Yolanda on his own family. Whether or not the super typhoon was caused by climate change it reminds us of the urgency of respecting God's creation. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good (Genesis 1:31, RSVCE). We may have ratified our own doom, Mr Saño points out. But there still is room for us to act.

From looking at news reports on television I see some hope that  within two or three days essential aid, food, drinking water, shelter, medicine,communication systems, proper sanitation, the recovery and burial of all the dead, may avert an even greater disaster than what is there now. Good weather that will last for at least a few days is expected by Friday.

Last night President Aquino said that the estimate of 10,000 dead was too high and that the government believed the death toll was around 2,500. The final figure may be somewhere in between those two estimates. But each death is a tragedy for family and relatives.

When my friend Rhea Sarigumba posted the PAGASA update on Facebook she wrote, May God guide us with His loving care and protection.

May God give strength to all in the affected areas, victims, those bringing aid, administrators and media people. 

Will Yeb Saño's warning, We may have ratified our own doom, come true or will there be a place for Xycy, Xie Ann, Mabel, the children born just after the storm, and their contemporaries around the world at the table of life when they grow up?

Just now, 7:50pm Philippine time, I received news that the family of Reah and Rogel are all safe. Thanks be to God.