‘Yolanda’: An unfolding of the Paschal Mystery


“Suffering” and “death” are the only two words that seem to characterize the devastation brought about by Typhoon Haiyan or Yolanda in Central Philippines, as clearly heard from victims’ stories and seen in the news. Despite the appaling destruction, though, “hope” and “joy” also shine forth amid that anguish – a hope and joy that can only come from the promise of Christ’s Resurrection.




The mention of supertyphoon Yolanda brings various images to one’s mind, depending on whether the one who hears it is a victim, a concerned Filipino, or a foreigner. One thing is sure though: Yolanda wreaked havoc and devastation. It was a nightmare which, up to now, is causing tremendous pain to those who experienced its wrath. Pictures of dead bodies, collapsed structures, and vehicles on top of roofs filled television screens. People were seen crying and walking like zombies. 

I personally had friends in Italy who were worried sick about their relatives in Tacloban and Samar. They particularly felt anxious because communication lines were mercilessly cut  off by Yolanda. I have no family members in the affected areas, but like the rest of the country, as I waited for news and, eventually, saw the footage and heard reports, my heart sank. 

The death toll climbed quickly. According to the official tally of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) dated January 29, 2014, recorded dead were 6,200 persons, 28,626 were injured and 1,785 are still missing. It also cites that 3,424,593 families, translating to 16,078,181 individuals in 12, 139 barangays in 44 provinces, were affected. 



My friend James’ parents have not yet been found. When I met him last December, he related to me the ordeal that he and his family have been going through. On the night before Yolanda unleashed its power on Tacloban, his parents said over the phone that they were prepared with flashlights and food. They and their townmates had been warned that there would be a storm surge.  Little did they know what the storm surge was going to be like. Based on his story, his neighbors saw his parents trying to swim through the floodwaters onto higher ground. His father was tightly holding his mother who fell unconscious. Neighbors threw a rope toward his father, but the current was too strong and the weight of his wife was dragging him down. He did not want to let go of her despite cries from other people insisting that he release his wife and save himself. Finally, he was engulfed by the water and both were washed away into the devouring ocean.  

James and I met up last December 23 after several years, upon my invitation for him to participate in the Yolanda outreach that my loved ones and I had organized. From Facebook, I learned that he would welcome opportunities to reach out to fellow Yolanda victims out of compassion and as therapy for himself as well. The event dubbed “Pasko ng Paghihilom, Panalangin at Paglalaro para sa Yolanda Families” (A Christmas of Healing, Prayer and Play for the Yolanda Families) was held at the Hospicio de San Jose, a place in Manila where some Yolanda victims had been temporarily housed by the Daughters of Charity. It came as an inspiration to me as I was praying for a concrete way to help the victims, aside from doing my share of trying to network for their needs through Facebook and our DZMM teleradio program, Salitang Buhay(Living Word).

On the day of the outreach, by God’s grace, around thirty of us disposed ourselves to be the arms of Christ and channels of healing and meaning to the Yolanda victims. When I initiated a prayer for the volunteers as we met an hour before to prepare for the affair, I myself could not help but shed tears. With my quivering voice, I let out the pity I had felt toward them. More importantly, I asked God to use us in the way He wanted to, that afternoon. I did not want to weep in front of them so that we could mirror God’s encouragement more effectively. We felt that they would be struggling to believe that the birth of Christ would actually be something to be grateful for, considering what they had just gone through. They were about eighty individuals, young and old. We prayed with them, distributed goods, bibles and rosaries, gave Jesus pillows for the children to embrace whenever they would feel scared, allowed them to share about the Holy Family and their impact on their own families, played games for adults and children, and gave away prizes. It also became a serendipitous moment for James as he was facilitating the group sharing with persons whom he discovered were his parents’ neighbors. Together, they prayed for and consoled one other. Many others supported the endeavor through their intercession and kind donations. We were able to give the excess cash to Liceo del Verbo Divino in Tacloban where students had no more money to pay for their tuition fees. This blessed not only the victims but all of us involved in the outreach as well.



Then came the privilege for me to be able to go to Tacloban and conduct an inner healing recollection for some Pauline cooperators, laymen and women residing there. I saw for myself the damage that Yolanda had left.  Sr. Gemma dela Cruz of the Daughters of St. Paul fetched me on Dec. 26 at the Tacloban airport. It had been over a month since the harrowing incident, yet the physical destruction at the airport itself and its surroundings was evident. The fence of the airport was badly hit. Sr. Gemma managed a smile as we rode the Caritas vehicle and told me that it would be inconvenient for me to stay in their house because the guest room’s floor was not in good condition after the floods. She said I would be staying with Ate Sonia, one of the Pauline cooperators whose subdivision was, to a large extent, spared, although there was still no electricity in their area. Ate Sonia and her husband, Kuya Paul, soon came to pick me up.

 The next day, I met the rest of the Pauline cooperators at the St. Therese Chapel of the Liceo del Verbo Divino Compound. I listened to their stories as they recounted how their personal lives and their businesses were disrupted by Yolanda. One man said that he lost several relatives. Another mentioned that she was grateful that their community generally did not suffer the loss of human lives, except for one lady whose whole family perished as their vehicle got submerged in the rushing water, just as they were about to escape.  I facilitated exercises, gave talks and led them in prayer before the exposed Blessed Sacrament. We started at about 8:30 a.m. and had to end at the latest, by 4:00 p.m. before it gets dark because it would be difficult to see one’s way due to the blackout. It was, at that time, still hard to get around because public transportation was limited. 

  “People are trying to go back to their normal lives, but cannot as yet,” Ate Sonia explained, the day after, as she and Sr. Gemma showed me around the city. As I was seeing the rubble of houses near the sea, I wondered about the horrifying experience of those who saw the tsunami-like waves about to swallow them up. I was told that, in those areas, there were more deaths than survivors. Each home had a story to tell. Ate Sonia pointed out a house in shambles and said that the children of the doctor who had resided there came home for a special occasion, but that all the members of their family died on that fateful day.  

We visited the compound of the major seminary in Leyte and saw that the buildings were roofless. The seminarians had already been given a general absolution as their formator feared they were all going to die. The good thing was that they survived even though the water rose very quickly. One of the cars of the formators went missing for a few days, and was later found submerged in the water and in mud at the compound. We visited one of the cemeteries where we got to talk to a man who lost about fifteen relatives. He said he would visit the graveyard every day, pray and mourn. He related that, as he was being strongly pushed by the water, he was forced to let go of his pregnant daughter, and thought that he himself would die. His daughter perished. He woke up on the street outside of what was left of his house. He felt so helpless, but he had to be firm for his grandson who survived the calamity.

Days before going to Tacloban, I was able to converse with Fr. Peru Tayag, SVD, of the Liceo del Verbo Divino. He mentioned that the school was really a mess, with debris piled up and cars stuck within the compound. He was touched by the fact that even the businessmen of the city volunteered to manually clear the grounds. Students were eager to go back to school, but many parents said that they no longer have sources of income to pay for their children’s tuition fees. In response to this dire need, the SVD missionaries of Liceo decided to operate, even at a loss, to try to help look for benefactors for the students so that they could continue with their education.



Our devastated Filipino countrymen who were tormented by Yolanda have had their overwhelming share of the Passion and Death of Christ. Their sufferings have been in all aspects of life: spiritual, psychological, physical, financial, and material. There were even people who said it seemed that Tacloban had been wiped out from the map. The sorrow they are experiencing is deep, traumatic and long-term. Literally and figuratively, they have been agonizing and have died individually and collectively. Some of them have been spotted as “walking dead” or going about life aimlessly. A friend said that when she went to Villamor Air Base to assist in the psychological debriefing of some of the victims, her heart cried out to them as they deplaned and rushed toward her and other volunteers with blank stares and the look of shock. 

As I was looking at the huge damage of Yolanda in Tacloban, I wondered to myself: “Lord, how will they recover from this? Lives can no longer be brought back.” How  could they ever genuinely experience the Resurrection of Christ in their own lives? Their suffering is already a reality that cannot be altered. Yet, the very fact that there are countless people accompanying them in their sorrow is, in itself, a taste of the gradual Resurrection process they are going through. Numerous volunteers have creatively and tirelessly done their part to raise funds, give their time and efforts to help the victims rise from the ashes. 

It is understandable that they would have doubts, feelings of hopelessness and ‘tantrums’ toward the Lord. Pope Francis extended keen sensitivity toward them, particularly during his homily on November 21, 2013 at St. Peter’s Basilica when Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle and Filipinos gathered for Mass for the Yolanda victims and for the blessing of the St. Pedro Calungsod mosaic. He uttered:

In these moments of sadness, let the power of this prayer be most useful: ‘’the prayer of why.’’…And I also accompany you, with this ‘’prayer of why.’’ There are many things that we cannot understand. As children grow, they become curious and begin to ask  their father or mother questions. A child asks why’s one after another but does not wait for a response. Rather, a child, in his insecurity, needs his father and mother to watch over him. He needs the eyes of his parents, he needs the heart of his parents. As children of God, we must pray “the prayer of why,” especially in moments of difficulty. In these moments of great suffering, don’t tire of saying, “Why?” (Be) like children…and so attract the eyes of our Father for your brothers and sisters; draw the tenderness of the “dad in heaven” upon yourselves. Be like a child asking, ‘”Why? Why?” 



James told me last January, that the dreams of his siblings about their parents give him peace. It was as if he were saying to me that these are assurances of the promise of Resurrection for their family. His siblings have been dreaming that their parents are saying that they are fine and happy in the place where they are now. Through dreams, they are encouraging James to continue his hopes and plans for the future. When James went on a pilgrimage abroad, a known visionary embraced him and told him, “Your parents are now in heaven.” He said he felt as though the Blessed Mother was with him and this calmed him profoundly even though his parents’ bodies have not been found. 

The graces of Easter are coming to the Yolanda victims. It is also their vision to rebuild their homes and their towns. “Tindog Tacloban” (Stand up, Tacloban) and other slogans are exhortations they are striving to remind themselves of. Ate Sonia herself, as she looked back at what happened to her own family, said that she is personally grateful that Yolanda brought her family together. Right after it happened, she found her grown-up children who were staying in different places, converging in their home. Many others are discovering blessings they can be thankful for. 

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louiseville, Kentucky and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops went to Tacloban and later on wrote in his blog, “Speaking to these young people (in Tacloban), I saw something I would see repeatedly: the courage and resiliency of the Filipino people…. What I learned was that, even as they rebuild their homes and struggle for their families’ livelihoods, the Filipino people have real faith and radiate what Pope Francis calls the joy of the Gospel. They have felt Yolanda’s wrath, but they feel God’s love even more.”  

There have been complaints about how the bureaucracy in the government has slowed down the relief and rehabilitation operations for the victims and their communities, and if this were true, then this would still be part of the passion and death of the victims. Some quarters even suggest that there might be capitalists taking advantage of the sad plight of the victims. We pray that this might not be so. We must be vigilant! However, the fact that Filipinos, foreigners, young and old, rich and poor, celebrities and unknown persons, Catholics or not, have rallied around the victims, and generously helped them recover, proves that the Resurrection graces of the Lord are authentically and deeply felt. The prayer of Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines for the Yolanda victims and for the nation strongly describes this:  “Kasama Ka Panginoon, anumang pagsubok…. kami ay magiging matatag… hindi matitinag… dahil alam naming ang pagmamahal Mo, ay higit na mas makapangyarihan at malakas, kahit pa sa kamatayan.” “You are with us, Lord…whatever the trial, we will be firm. We will not be daunted because we believe that Your love is greater and more powerful than enything else, even death.”  

Ilsa B. Reyes is a full-time Church worker called to inner healing, intercession and media. She co-hosts Salitang Buhay (Living Word) over DZMM Teleradio.

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