Church Services Held In Typhoon-Shattered City

An old woman survivor walks past toppled cars outside a church at typhoon-hit Tacloban city, Leyte province, central Philippines on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013. Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful storms on record, hit the country's eastern seaboard Nov. 8, leaving a wide swath of destruction. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

An old woman survivor walks past toppled cars outside a church at typhoon-hit Tacloban city, Leyte province, central Philippines on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013. Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful storms on record, hit the country's eastern seaboard Nov. 8, leaving a wide swath of destruction. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

TACLOBAN, Philippines (AP) -- Hours after the storm hit the Philippines, Father Amadero Alvero was on the streets, sprinkling holy water over the dead and praying for them. His first, a woman, lay face down amid piles of rubble just steps from his half-destroyed, filthy Santo Nino church.

By late afternoon, the 44-year-priest had blessed about 50 corpses in the remains of this shattered city.

He then returned to church and led Mass.

"Despite what happened, we still believe in God," he said. "The church may have been destroyed, but our faith is intact, as believers, as a people of God, our faith has not been destroyed."

On Sunday, Alvero lead a service for about 500 people in the church in Tacloban.

Sun shone for the first service, but by the second, rain was falling through a hole in the roof.

It was one of scores of churches across the region holding services that were attended by thousands, many homeless and grieving. More than 80 percent of the 90 million people in the Philippines are Roman Catholic, the largest in Asia by far and a legacy of its history of Spanish colonial rule.

Some came to give thanks for surviving. Others to pray for the souls of the departed.

"Coming to Mass gives people hope that things will eventually get better," said Marino Caintic.

Tacloban, a city of 220,000 people, was largely leveled by the Nov. 7 typhoon.

Alvero carried on his work until the fifth day, blessing bodies wherever they lay - in smashed cars or floating in water. He stopped when the smell became too much for him, though he said other priests have continued.

Asked why would God allow a storm so powerful and so deadly to obliterate the region, claiming the lives of so many innocents and causing immense suffering, Alvero used an argument familiar to followers of the Abrahamic faiths.

"We are being tested by God, to see how strong our faith is, to see if our faith is true," he said. "This is a test of God. He wants to know that we have faith in him in good times, as well as in bad."

Santo Nino and other churches have also been helping care for those who survived.

About 30 families are living in the church, and there are boxes of water and canned goods and food piled up on the promises. The sea water flooded much of the first floor of the compound, but receded.

The Nov. 8 typhoon killed more than 3,500 people and destroyed or damaged hundreds of thousands of homes in what was already a poor region. A major international relief effort, spearheaded by the U.S. military, is underway to assist survivors.

BY TODD PITMAN - Nov 16, 9:14 PM ESTAP

 
 

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