Thursday 21 May 2015 at 16:07Crossing The Bridge
by Yeb Saño, OurVoices Spiritual Ambassador
Just about one and a half years ago, Tacloban City was laid to waste as the strongest storm to make landfall in the history of humanity struck with awesome might. Today, the city is slowly but surely picking up the pieces and there are many signs of communities getting back on their feet. This notwithstanding, the overall endeavor of truly building back better and addressing root causes and underlying factors of vulnerability remains to be a colossal challenge.
In the early hours of May 17th, the Feast of the Ascension, a group of friends – all constant pilgrims and wanderers, many of whom lived through the brute beast that was Haiyan – gathered at the doorstep of the Sto. Niño Church in Tacloban.
With a deep sense of honor, they quietly made their way into the pews to join the congregation.
Sto. Niño Church offered a mass as a way of thanksgiving for what was about to unfold for the day, and perhaps for human history. At half-past six the mass commenced, and the day’s occasion was a fitting tribute to the way that the city had gotten back to its feet. For Christians, the Feast of the Ascension is the continuing story of Jesus’ resurrection, with his bodily ascension into heaven, denoting that Christ had fulfilled his work of redeeming us.
It would be recalled that in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan, this area around Sto. Niño Church suffered the most massive death and devastation. Thousands of lifeless bodies were strewn in and around this area. The church building itself was inundated by seven-meter pummeling waves that surged from the storm-roused sea. The people who lived through this nightmare could not at the time imagine how Tacloban would ever rise from the lurid desolation.
After the Eucharistic celebration, we gathered around the celebrant priest and he gave out what was both a solemn and cheerful consecration of the pilgrims. The priest bade us the humble valediction, prayed us our safe journey, and wished triumph for our quest.
Our spirits were buoyed, and we stepped out into the plaza fronting the church and basked in the glory of the morning sun.
Behind us was the gleaming white edifice, now fully rebuilt and restored, better than it once was; the Sto. Niño Church now stands as a testament to the spiritual strength and resilience of the people of Tacloban and of the Philippines.
The People’s Pilgrimage – or our humble part of it – had begun. We set off from the heart of what was once the scene of inconceivable devastation and weaved through downtown Tacloban towards the iconic San Juanico bridge, which stood like a proud warrior and was left undamaged by the typhoon, serving as the main lifeline of the city and the island province to the rest of the world.
As we walked and prayed with our feet, many of us somberly reminisced the horror of the typhoon’s aftermath, some images being so vivid as if there was a hologram manifesting the scene in front of us. But then again, despite the marked signs of rebuilding, tangible reminders of the disaster persisted.
There were still many houses, or remnants of such, that stood deserted, roofless, or sheathed by plastic tarps. Brightly-painted concrete posts that marked the no-build zone stood farcically in the midst of many homes re-erected in the same dangerous spots in a bizarre but totally understandable paradox. The bow of a ship that was washed ashore yet laid about a hundred meters inland.
We offered silent prayers for the lives that have likewise been washed away and for the lives that have been given another chance.
The 15-kilometer walk was a reverse of the walk we did when we arrived in Tacloban also by foot last year, and while the contrast was stark (last year there were 5,000 of us, last Sunday we were twenty), the sense of kinship and solidarity we felt from all over the world was starkly familiar. Like last year, we likewise saw the crucial connection of this walk to the Road to Paris (a road, by the way, filled with good intentions). What makes this walk a bit more special though is that a youth leader and a Typhoon Haiyan survivor, Marinel Ubaldo, had walked with us and had written a letter to world leaders.
We vowed to bring that letter to Paris.
Last Sunday, each one of the pilgrims made over 19,600 steps on our little pilgrimage as we departed Tacloban in a leave-taking ritual of crossing the mighty San Juanico. As has always been said, a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. What has not been commonly said is that we won’t reach our destination if not for every step. Each of those 19,600 steps (and collectively about 400,000 steps for all who walked) was equally important.
The People’s Pilgrimage is our way of reminding the whole world about the reality of climate change and reflecting on the state of our planet.
The journey will be long and arduous, and it will take the courage and determination of the entire human family to get us to the future we want. For this journey, therefore, every step counts. In our common aspiration to confront the climate crisis, we cannot afford to say that we’ll cross the bridge when we get there. We have to get there.
Photo by Ed Anthony
Check out some of Yeb's photo's from his Tacloban pilgrimage: