THE 22nd day of June 2008 would simply be another footnote in history someday given the string of tragedies and calamities our nation has to endure. Yet for many, it will be day to change their lives forever.
An hour before I was to celebrate the Holy Mass at our Cathedral in Tarlac at 9 in the morning, I wanted to see and hear the news first knowing that there was a typhoon that was passing. And lo, the news was that somewhere in Romblon they were finally able to spot the missing ship, Princess of the Star, but capsized and the passengers and crew missing.
One of the survivors was able to relate later on that to his recollection it took only about 15 minutes from the announcement to abandon ship to the actual sinking of the ship. He related how he even heard the cries of the children that were trapped inside the ship, as well as the old and the young who were left on the ship as they struggled to get to the life boats.
And among the remains that were first washed ashore were the remains of a couple—a man and a woman—whose hands were tied together to each other, presumably so that they would not lose each other in the sea.
Five minutes before the start of the Holy Mass, I asked the choir if the Gloria would be sung in English or in Tagalog. English, Father, the Choir leader said. And finally I set to begin the offering of the Holy Mass. Genuflected before the tabernacle, kissed the altar, and proceeded to the Presider’s Chair. Fewer people this morning, I observed, it was a morning of torrential rains and strong winds.
I could not turn away from the thought of those who perished during the onslaught of the typhoon. I strived to pray for them and for their families. I even thought if it would be appropriate to sing the Gloria that morning. The first Reading, the Responsorial Psalm, the second Reading, the Gospel, then the Homily.
Where was God during those fateful fifteen minutes when the ship was sinking? Where was God when the children were crying? Where was God when His people were drowning?
My thoughts while listening to the readings became my spontaneous words during the Homily: did I need to reassure the faithful? Did I even need to reassure myself? No, it was God reassuring us all. He was there through it all.
So many thoughts crossed my mind that morning. I remembered the year 1990, my last year in College taking up BA in Philosophy. My mother was struggling to survive from cancer. Series of chemotherapy and cobalt treatment, only to end up her cancer metastasizing to her lungs, liver, and bones. Almost every evening I would spend hours before the Blessed Sacrament begging God to heal her. Going to the EDSA Shrine Adoration Chapel, spending overnight vigils alone imploring God to give my mother a longer life. And physical healing and longer life on earth were not His plans for her. The pain, the anguish, and the ultimate cry of the feeble human heart: Where was God?
Does God turn a blind eye or play deaf when His people suffer? Or does He shed a tear when you and me suffer and die?
And suddenly the Gospel of that particular Sunday of June 22: And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul... Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So DO NOT BE AFRAID; you are worth more than many sparrows (Mt. 10: 28, 29-31).
My prayer was and my prayer is, may they—when they were drowning and gasping their last—their angels would have whispered to them: DO NOT BE AFRAID. And that when they had opened their eyes—their every tear and pain would have been gone, for when they woke from their slumber, God is there.
In darkness, light. In death, life.
In the Litany of Loreto, we invoke Our Lady as Consolatrix Afflictorum, Consoler of the Afflicted. We beg you, Our Lady, help our people in our suffering and pain, for never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection or sought your intercession was left unaided. Our Mother, help and protect us. Amen.