Standing at the pulpit of his typhoon-ravaged church in Surigao City, Catholic priest Dennis Llogon delivers a sermon by candlelight to the faithful seeking solace after a deadly storm devastated their city.
Hundreds of devotees flocked to the San Nicolas de Tolentino Cathedral for the pre-dawn service on Saturday as part of the traditional Christmas season celebrations—but there was little rejoicing.
Super Typhoon Odette [international name: Rai] was packing wind speeds of 195 kilometers (120 miles) per hour when it slammed into the coastal city of Surigao on the northern tip of Mindanao island on Thursday, ripping roofs off buildings, toppling concrete power poles and shattering glass windows.
Some people sought shelter inside the sturdy church but had to flee to the second floor of a building next door when it flooded.
Part of the cathedral’s ceiling was peeled off by the ferocious wind, leaving a gaping hole, and the building lost power.
Despite the devastation brought by the typhoon – the strongest to hit the archipelago this year – Father Llogon used candles to light the cavernous church as he welcomed back believers.
“We’re in this journey together, we help each other, also inspired by the faith in God,” Llogon told AFP.
“There are a lot of questions around why this happened, why this Christmas season. What is important is our faith – I can see their faith is solid,” he added.
The majority of Filipinos identify as Catholic and December is one of the most important months on the religious calendar, with many attending pre-dawn masses in the nine days leading up to Christmas.
Rico Amolares, 19, said he felt the “presence of God” during the sermon.
“Despite the difficulty, our priest conducted a mass with very few candles,” Amolares told AFP.
“There’s still a light we can see from people, giving hope to everyone.”
More than 80 people have been reported killed in the typhoon that devastated several islands as it swept across the archipelago, according to official tallies.
Surigao City Mayor Ernesto Matugas has said that three people died there in the storm.
Electricity and communications have been knocked out in many areas, hampering efforts of disaster agencies to assess the extent of the death and destruction.
There were long queues for drinking water in Surigao where streets were being cleared of fallen tree branches, corrugated iron roofing and debris.
“It was unimaginable, I thought all of us would die,” a woman told AFP.
“I prayed the divine mercy prayer, but I was rattled and didn’t know what to do. I had a panic attack.”