Archbishop Vincent Nichols gave this homily for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan, their families and the Filipino community at Westminster Cathedral on Friday 15 November.
My brothers and sisters, this evening we gather to pray for all who have lost their lives or been caught up in the horrific devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan, or Yolanda as Filipinos call it.
It blasted central regions of the country last week killing thousands and leaving millions in a desperate state. There are, I’m sure, many family and friends of Yolanda’s victims here this evening. I offer you my heartfelt condolences and prayers. We are with you in our hearts.
I long to be able to reach out to all those who are suffering. That is not easy. The Philippines is far away. You cannot go to express your love and support. I cannot go. But I have asked Bishop John Arnold to go to the Philippines as soon as possible, to go on my behalf, to go on your behalf, to carry our love and our prayers to your country in this time of need. Bishop John will go next week. We thank you, Bishop John. May God strengthen you for this journey and fill your heart with our love and prayers.
At this moment we readily feel powerless, unable to help. And yet help is being given by people and governments from all around the world. The Government of this country and our own Catholic community here, together with many, many others, are sending help. And so we should for you, the Filipino community here, enrich our country greatly by your faith, your prayers and your work. We salute you all you do here and we stand by you in this hour of need. I thank in a special way our own Catholic aid agency CAFOD for its impressive response. We pray that this help may speedily reach those most in need. Where there is help there is hope for the future.
Hope for the future was beautifully symbolised by the lovely pictures of baby Bea Joy. As you probably know, Bea Joy’s 21 year old mother, Emily Sagalis, still heavily pregnant, was swept away by a huge wave and feared lost. But her husband, Jobert, found her floating among the debris. Soon after, Emily gave birth to her daughter amidst the rubble: new life emerging from the abyss of destruction.
Such hope for new life is so evidently carried in the hearts of very many of those suffering the effects of the typhoon. In fact, more than anything we can give them, they offer us an inspiring witness to the power of hope, a hope deeply rooted in faith.
I find it especially remarkable that their trust in God has not been crushed by the terrifying winds which flattened everything else, including so many churches. For others, this kind of natural disaster, far from manifesting the “author of beauty” [as we heard in the first Reading], gives reason to reject belief in God. But, instead, what have we witnessed? As Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, said: we see “Faith in the midst of ruins.”
It was humbling and encouraging to see people last Sunday, despite everything they’d suffered, gathering for Mass close to the remains of their beloved church buildings which had crumbled before the elemental forces. At Loboc, for example, the Parish Priest, Fr Andres Ayco decided to hold three Masses, whereas others in the area held just two. Why? Because he had not been able to announce that the 8:30 am Mass was cancelled! That’s real pastoral care. Fr Andre knew that those who turned up for Mass would be severely disappointed if there was none. They needed it, desired it. For as Fr Andre said: “Behind their suffering is their faith in the Lord.”
In this same parish, the Children’s Choir sang hymns to uplift the community’s spirits. One of the Choir members, a fifteen year old girl called Carmel Mae, explained that though still frightened herself by the aftershocks she didn’t want fear to prevent her from giving “hope and inspiration to the people…so that they will no longer be afraid.” Just one instance of the love shared amongst those who have lost so much.
Certainly, this admirable hope, faith, and love flourishing in the face of the grievous pain of loss, this cleaving to God despite the horror experienced, encourages us to strive for the same remarkable and unreserved commitment to God’s providence; to the God who from all bad things has the power to bring out good, even from the suffering wrought by Typhoon Yolanda. Nowhere do we see this power of God more clearly than in the Crucifix. In every darkness, we are gently invited to look to the Crucifix, and from its silence discern God’s response.
When Pope Benedict celebrated Mass in our cathedral, he directed our gaze to “the great crucifix dominating the nave, which portrays Christ’s body, crushed by suffering”. He spoke eloquently of Christ uniting our sufferings to the infinite merits of his sacrifice. He assured us that we are caught up in Christ’s eternal oblation, the source of life itself. In the Crucifix we see the very presence of God in human suffering and death: the Word now silent promising healing and resurrection. We cannot exclude God from this awful situation because God has chosen to be in the thick of it, transforming it from within! Look at Christ crucified and see the people of the Philippines embraced in that ultimate Love which is the source of their sure and certain hope. From the silence of the Cross, hear the reason for their faith.
Mary stood by the foot of that Cross. Devotion to Mary brings great comfort to people afflicted by the typhoon. Processions with statues of Our Lady tangibly express their firm conviction that the Virgin is with them, giving birth to her Son amidst the rubble, giving birth to Hope, to new Life, even where death appeared to triumph. In the parish of Barangay Napu, dedicated to Birhen sa Kasilag, Our Lady of Light, the statue of our Blessed Mother survived destruction. In the Masses celebrated in the Philippines after Typhoon Yolanda, and at every Mass, the Light who is Mary’s Son, God-with-us, shines brilliantly, casting out the darkness of despair from people’s lives.
At this Mass, and at every Mass, we are most intimately bound in love to all the victims of the typhoon, and they to us. We believe that in offering Mass for them, the most powerful assistance is given. We pray that those who lost their lives may be gathered into the outstretched hands of the dying Christ, who breathed into our world the very breath of Life, the Holy Spirit. By the power the Holy Spirit, may all who died in Christ be lifted up to the Father, raised to life everlasting. We pray for those who mourn that they may know the consolation of Christ who wept at the death of his friend Lazarus, and who weeps with them. We thank God for our Filipino brothers’ and sisters’ inspiring example of hope, faith and love amidst such devastation. We express our gratitude for their great witness to the life-giving power of the Mass.
Pope Francis, at the Angelus last Sunday, assured the population of the Philippines of his closeness to them. The Holy Father then invited everyone gathered in St Peter’s Square to pray for a moment in silence and afterwards to join him in praying the Hail Mary for the victims of the typhoon. Looking to the Crucifix, looking to Mary standing by her suffering Son, standing by those suffering in the Philippines, let us now do the same.