MANY Filipinos fled to their nearest church when the warnings
for Typhoon Haiyan began on 7 November, seeking refuge in more
But houses of God were not immune to the force of the storm. In
the large, ornate Roman Catholic Church of Santa Niño in Tacloban,
the largest town on the island of Leyte, the surge of water was
waist-high, and the howling winds caused almost £50,000 of damage
to the roof.
Sister Monica Gutierrez, of the Franciscan Handmaids of the
Lord, said that 250 families sheltered from the typhoon in the
church. "I was in the convent; so I didn't see it, but the water
came up to the fifth step on our stairs," she said. "The families
in the church went up the bell tower during the typhoon. There were
no casualties, but they are very shaken.
"The roof is ruined. It will cost 40 million pesos [about
£530,000] to renovate the entire church."
With no money from the diocese, Sister Monica and her
parishioners must raise the funds themselves to restore their
church. But the physical damage had not shaken the faith of the
congregation, she said. "People are stronger in their faith because
of the typhoon. They trust in God, and try their best to cope with
the situation." Attendance at services inside the damaged church
had gone up.
Fr Pio Makabenta, from the RC Redemptorist Mission in Tacloban,
said that it was inevitable that a tragedy of the scale of the
typhoon would raise spiritual questions for the survivors. Many had
approached him after the storm, he said. "People have questions
about God. They were asking: 'What kind of God do we have?' and
'Where is God in this?' It's about journeying also with them."
As Fr Makabenta spoke he was preparing to hold mass inside the
Astrodome stadium, which was an evacuation centre during Haiyan and
is still home to 462 families.
He grew up near the town, and was a parish priest there for four
years. After the typhoon hit, he returned with the mission, and had
been helping the relief efforts for the more than 300 families in
his parish who were left destitute by the storm.
"We were bringing in relief food during Yolanda [the Filipino
name for Typhoon Haiyan] and also medical supplies," he said. "Now
we are into building shelters. The plan is to give housing supplies
to 22 barangays [districts]."
The area had changed since the typhoon struck, Fr Makabenta
said. "It was very difficult for me to come back. Before, it was a
happy life here. But coming back - the trauma and the stress. . . I
can't count the times I have wept with people, or even on my
Wherever you go, the legacy of Haiyan is unavoidable. The land
around the parish church of San Joaquin, a short drive outside
Tacloban, has become a mass grave. At least 50 simple wooden
crosses, many inscribed with the name of a victim and a photo, mark
The town of Palo, a few miles from San Joaquin, was in the eye
of the storm. The steel roof of the RC cathedral was ripped off as
though it were tin foil, and lay, contorted, along the side of the
Sister Monica said that her church was the first to offer help
to the victims. "It was the first to give food, water, and
clothing. The families that sheltered here stayed in the church for
more than a month afterwards.
"Some of the people may be doubting about their faith, but,
mostly, they try to carry on."