“Parang hindi po Pasko, Father.” I could not help but agree with this comment of one of my parishioners. I imagine that this is not just a single voice, but a loud chorus courtesy of the cruelty of “Odette”.

“Bakit ganun po ang kapalaran?” I had a sense that this expression was somewhat filtered by religious piety. What was really being pointed out was, “Bakit ganun po ang Diyos?” I had to keep biting my tongue so as not to make any remarks about what I had heard. Otherwise, I would have quickly retorted, “E ganun talaga po siya.” “Kapalaran”, in truth, means “Hindi pa nga nakakabangon sa COVID dinoblehan naman ni Odette.”

Find no fault in the candidness of exasperation of our local folks. I am pretty sure you would also share their sentiments had you suffered the same “kapalaran”, and would even have a stronger biting expression of disgust.

After a super stormy night, I went around my parish to manifest solidarity with my sheepfold. What I saw and heard left me dumbfounded in unexplainable ways.

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A young girl running towards me said, “Father! Father! Nasira po lahat ng mga tanim ng tatay ko!” And with a voice that was cracked with emotions, “Kawawa naman po ang tatay ko.” How an innocent daughter would have pity on her father, I just cannot create a picture of how would she comfort her downtrodden tatay.

I went along the coastal area and found almost all the motorboats either damaged or wrecked. One mother of a family quickly quipped to me, “Dalawang buwan pa lang po yang makina ng bangka ng mister ko po, Father…. Wala na po, pero tuloy tuloy pa ang bayad nyan. Hulugan po kasi.” I did not utter a word (I could not grasp for a word to comfort her, honestly) about what she told me. Siya na lang ang nagpalakas ng sarili when she said, “Sige lang po, Father. Bahala na po ang Diyos.”

A young couple had to come back home to Palawan after finding no fighting chance in Manila due to the economic crisis brought about by the pandemic. For a month, they had already started with their small sari-sari store cum snack bar. That fateful night, Odette just crushed what they had just started. Tuklap ang bubong ng tindahan at basa ang mga paninda. “Installment basis pa man lang din tong mga paninda namin po.” I immediately cut her, “Sana hindi na kayo pabayarin.”

Also, a seventy-something farmer reported to me, “Father, bagsak po halos lahat ng niyog ko. First time po to sa tagal ko ng nagtatanim. Yun lang po pa naman ang ikinabubuhay namin.” His wife also butted in, “Napaiyak na lang po yang mister ko nung makita nyang tumba na ang mga niyog niya.”

Oh, I should also share that at that night when Odette was shattering us, I heard someone at the top of his voice, “Father! Puede pong magpalipas muna kami ng gabi ng pamilya ko dito sa kumbento? Nakakatakot na po ang taas ng tubig at liliparin na rin po ang bahay namin eh. ” I let them in quickly, kasama ang ilang mga bata pang mga anak.

I chanced upon a couple in their backyard. They were scraping coconuts. “Marami pong gagawin na bukayo ngayon, Father. Galing sa mga bumagsak na mga puno. Sayang din po.” The husband said quite sharply, “Ngayon sana magpakita sa atin ang mga pulitiko, Father! Ngayon po sana sila magpabida.” Then and there, I shrugged at what was said. Truth be told, before the typhoon, I had seen quite a number of politicians coming back and forth from our barrio. But when Odette came, and for several days afterward, waley… as in waley. Let us see who has the guts to show up first.

For two nights, we were not able to hold our Simbang Gabi. And when we did resume, with only half of the roof covering our heads, I commenced my homily with, “Ang Simbang Gabi ay paghihintay natin sa liwanag na mula sa langit. Ayan, maliwanag na po. Kita na rin ang langit.” And we laughed together. But I continued on a serious note, “Tuloy po ba ang Pasko?” Deeply, they made a thought about it. Then some tears slowly fell from several eyes, including mine.

Have a meaningful one, everyone.

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