People of Palo remember life’s biggest lessons from ‘Yolanda’

PALO, Leyte, Dec. 9 (PNA) — The resilience of Filipinos and their strong devotion towards the Catholic faith were on display Sunday as those who survived the onslaught of super typhoon “Yolanda” (Haiyan) shared everything they remember during that fateful Friday of November 8, its aftermath, and how God helped them through those harrowing times.

Fr. Sunny Quejada told a packed audience inside Palo Cathedral about his own ordeal upon learning that he had lost two members of his immediate family from the tragedy. He, however, said that blaming God for what happened never crossed his mind.

The 33-year-old priest took a few days of leave from his parish in Aurora and rushed home to his family as soon as he learned that his mother went missing following Yolanda’s onslaught. When he arrived, he also found out that his elder sister was also missing.

He immediately went to search for his beloved kin, gone as far as looking at and praying for the dead bodies he saw on the road one-by-one, and felt relieved when he did not find them there. Such relief, however, was just temporary as the remains of his mother showed up a few days later.

Fr. Quejada said he wished to see his mother alive but he already prepared himself for the worst and accepted her death. He, too, acknowledged the possibility that his sister did not survive even if her body has not yet been found.

He took care of everything for her mother’s burial, from buying the coffin to processing the papers. Despite being overwhelmed with sadness, he even personally led the ceremonial rites during her interment.

“Some priests found it hard to lead a funeral mass for their loved ones because they get very emotional. But somehow I managed to hold one for my mother because I wanted to give her a proper burial,” Fr. Quejada said in Filipino while keeping his emotions in check.

Fr. Quejada admitted he once had thought about asking some of his brothers why they let something bad happen to their mother and sister, but he quickly abandoned the idea, knowing that it must be more agonizing on their part as they were witnesses to Yolanda’s devastation.

Instead, Fr. Quejada prayed to the Lord and thanked Him for allowing them to experience this pain because it made them stronger as a family. With God on their side, he said he would rather look at his experiences with Yolanda on a positive note.

Fr. Quejada already sent his remaining family members to Manila where they can start rebuilding their lives. He also plans to go back to his parish soon in preparation for the traditional Misa de Gallo.

His testimony was just one of the many stories shared here in Palo as part of its cathedral’s Days of Prayer and Remembrance to mark the first month since super typhoon Yolanda wreaked havoc in Leyte and other places in the Visayas.

Monsignor Bernie Pantin, parish priest of the Palo Cathedral, said this prayerful event was held to provide a communal experience of healing and closure as they take a rest from the frenzy of relief activities and spend a period of silence, pay respects to, and pray for the dearly departed, as well as offer sympathies to their families and friends.

It was also meant to give thanks to God for the valuable gift of new life given to those who survived the typhoon, and to remember with gratitude and to pray for the countless generous persons, who continue to work together to help with the healing process and rehabilitation of the beautiful island of Leyte.

A group of talented children who fortunately survived the tragedy performed two songs, “Yesterday’s Dream” and “Pag-ibig Tulad ng Batis,” during the program that drew applause, cheers, and tears of joy from parishioners.

Archbishop John Du of the Archdiocese of Palo capped the program with a prayer before leading the Eucharistic celebration. (PNA)