Recalling a day in early December, this was I believe our fourth visit to Brgy. Agdaliran after Typhoon Yolanda hit. I was sitting at the barangay hall after an exhausting day of distributing food and some basic provisions with one of our volunteers. A group of foreigners arrived led by Ruth Cachuela, the Punong Barangay (elected village chief) who introduced them as members of a Korean Mission based in Iloilo City. They were delivering relief assistance and meeting with the village officials to discuss the possibility of extending more help to the community. We were introduced to them by Nanay Ruth, as representatives of the Archdiocese of Jaro. She referred to me as her close friend and “almost-daughter” who brought them small food and non-food items that mattered at that time.
At the meeting I quietly listened while the Korean church group presented their intentions and occasionally we were asked to assist Nanay Ruth in explaining to the missionaries the barangay’s urgent needs and concerns. After the consultation the group’s Pastor stood up to shake our hands, thanking us for helping in the relief effort and then he invited us to join them in prayer for the community.
As accustomed as I was to public worship, I was a bit taken aback by the Pastor’s invitation, not only because they spoke a foreign language that I sometimes found slightly unnerving but also because they were strangers and we were “staunch Catholics” which he did not seem to mind at all. I wondered if he heard us being introduced as people who represented the diocese. Despite our hesitation we obligingly joined their circle and listened to them pray in their language. It surprised me to hear the Pastor switch to the English language for our benefit and then invite his companions to lay a hand over our head so they could pray for us, for our health and perseverance to keep on serving others who were suffering from similar calamities.
At some point in the midst of all the strangeness, being in the company of foreigners who spoke in strange tongues but express the same faith, a sudden realization hit me – now this is what it means to be One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, regardless of religion or belief. It means people and community, life and prayer, in-reach and outreach, unity and diversity, all of us coming together to acknowledge the one God who created everything. God was never more real to me than that moment.
In one of our courses at Bukal Ng Tipan on Designing Creative Liturgies we were asked to share the most memorable Eucharistic celebration we’ve attended. Our teachers were trying to explain the meaning of the liturgy and we were asked to recall instances when we had a profound encounter with God in prayer. To recall when we personally or with a community felt God’s genuine presence in a solemn moment of worship leading us to pray wholeheartedly and sincerely. They referred to that experience as “flashes of the sacred”.
To my understanding “flashes of the sacred’ was not necessarily an encounter that can only happen in the context of a prayerful event. The ordinariness of our daily lives could bring us to specific encounters with people and places that serve as a reminder of God’s immanent presence radiating in all.
This is why Rebuild Project for us is so much more than just a relief and rehabilitation program. While it is very much a generic project implementation, it is also an “out-of-church ministry.” (Please see related insight in the website entitled: Rebuild Project: Doing “Out-of-Church Ministry”). It is an effort to build FAITH communities so that every day we can experience Christ in others as we encounter Him daily in the realities of Naborot, Agdaliran, Odiongan, all in San Dionisio, and in Lemery, Estancia, Barotac Viejo and many others that continue to rise above the storm. Because Christ is real and present in the faith and life of every Juan, Ruth, Delsa, Joe, Titus and Eddie we believe that through the Rebuild project we can organize people into small faith communities or as we prefer to call them Magagmay nga Kristianong Katilingban (MKK) to provide a venue where people can encounter Jesus and experience ‘flashes of the sacred’.
It has been five months since we saw those distraught faces and scenes of desperation over lost homes and broken spirits. Nowadays there are only the smiling faces aglow with hope. We have been fortunate to participate in the blessing and sending off of more than 4 dozen fishing boats.
The first blessing held in the small Island of Naborot where we piloted the project was especially emotional and overwhelming for me. Together with the 142 families we celebrated mass to thank God for the restoration of their livelihood and we watched them as they proudly sped off to sea to test out their new boats with their family.
Just last week, April 15, 2014, we were in Brgy. Agdaliran to facilitate a community prayer for the blessing of 3 fishing boats. In this particular occasion we had a chance to listen to the people share their feelings and insights on everything that happened to them over the last few months. Most of them were reluctant to relive the harrowing Typhoon Yolanda experience. Many had to choke back the tears and stifle raw emotions that well up within.
However while listening to their stories I was overwhelmed by a feeling of consolation. Just a few months ago I witnessed these people almost beg and scrape for whatever was left of their homes. They had to settle for the meager provisions that came their way from benefactors who were kind enough to bring them the bare necessities. Suddenly I became aware of that blessed moment that I was there to see the glimmer of pride that flickered through their eyes as they proudly offered their catch for the day in thanksgiving and to be shared at our table fellowship with the guests who came in behalf of the donors.
I could not recall a more heartfelt moment as we held hands with our partners to ask the Father to “Give us this day our daily bread”. And so there it was, ‘Flashes of the Sacred’ – when faith, life, concern, love, community and liturgy are connected together in that one sacred moment.