Typhoon Leaves Memento in Chapel Rafters

“Suddenly the water came inside our parish office, going higher and higher,” says Father Javier Mexicano, a priest in Marikina, Philippines. “I said, ‘Let’s bring things to the second floor, to save them.’”

“But when the water kept rising, I realized: ‘This is a matter of saving ourselves. We will die.’”

Typhoon Ketsana

Displaced people receive aid at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Chapel in Rizal, Philippines, following severe flooding. Fr. Javier, white T-shirt, broke a hole in his roof when the storm hit and eventually swam from his roof to safety. A pew is lodged in the rafters of the chapel, where it floated during the flood. Photo by Laura Sheahen/CRS

Father Javier and his fellow priest, Father Manuel, did what many people in the Philippine island of Luzon were forced to do last Saturday when a fierce tropical storm hit: break through their roofs and climb to safety. But the priests weren’t safe even on the roof; the water kept coming. Picking a moment when the current seemed less strong, the two men swam to a parishioner’s house—one with a third floor.

Daisy Sevilla, a mother in her fifties, also climbed up on her roof with her family. “We were there for hours, and we had no food. All we had was an umbrella,” she says. As the terrible Saturday passed into Sunday and she was still on the roof, Daisy prayed the rosary.

Fifteen-year-old Maricar left her Saturday class and waded through the water, which quickly reached above her knees. A neighbor spotted her and told her that her home had been washed away. “I knew our house was destroyed, but I didn’t know where my family was,” she says. Her father eventually found her and brought her to high ground, where her five sisters were. “My dad went back to our house to save some things, but there wasn’t anything to save.”

Four days after Tropical Storm Ketsana swallowed homes and killed hundreds, the survivors are grappling with the reality of having nothing. Clothes, tables, blankets, dishes—everything that wasn’t swept away is mostly unusable, saturated with mud. CRS responded immediately, getting food, bottled water and clothing to the victims. But replacing the most basic contents of thousands of homes will not be easy.

Typhoon relief

CRS/Caritas goods are distributed via boat to residents of a flooded village. Most of the villagers are still living on the second floor of their homes. Photo by Laura Sheahen/CRS

Maricar and her family are now sleeping on flattened cardboard boxes on the floor of her parish’s formation center. “I lost things I really need, like my birth certificate,” she says. “But one thing I really miss is my songbook. I sing in a choir.” She’s lost her book but not her voice: surrounded this afternoon by other teens at her parish who are volunteering with aid efforts, she sang a hymn to Mary.

At his aptly-named chapel—Our Lady of Perpetual Help—Father Javier and a team of volunteers help survivors who need clothes, medicine, and more. Some families sleep in the chapel at night; by day, it’s filled with bags of donated clothing and food.

If anyone needed a stark reminder of the flood that has changed all their lives, people who enter the chapel need only look heavenwards. Lodged in the rafters is a long wooden pew that floated nearly to the peak of the chapel’s roof. How will they get it down from such a height? Father Javier grins.

“We will climb.”

– Laura Sheahen, CRS regional information officer for Asia and the Pacific Rim

To help families in Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

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