DINAGAT DIARY, Day 5: Opportunity to Love

January 6, 2022

The weather today finally cooperated with our plans. Bishop’s homily in the morning focused on the light that dispels the darkness. Light has come on those who recognize that every person we meet is our brother or sister.

In Maatas, Cagdianao, where we decided to conduct our relief operation (‘Duyog-Ambit’), people from nearby barrios and another town flocked. As regards to their religious affiliations, there are only a few Catholics. Many of them are Aglipayans (Iglesia Filipina Independiente) and members of PBMA (Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association) and its new faction, the Rubenians.

We separated the kids, the youth and the adults to minister them according to their needs. We employed them with medical and psycho-social interventions. It was just in time when the goods (from the trucks) arrived, along with the Food Committee. We were able to provide warm food and at least five kilos of rice for each of the 300 or so families.

When our feeding program was a bit delayed, we decided to delay also our lunch until the people had something to eat. Everyone was so kind and patient about the slow pace of the distribution of goods, both the recipients and the volunteers. It was just consoling to see the happy faces of the little children and the young people in their parlor games. Their shouts and shrieks reverberated in the hollow space of the gym. I could not contain my joy on seeing the joyful faces of the many people there, knowing what they went through. I felt so privileged to be part of this team that went out of our comfort zones just to share our time and the resources of the people who entrusted us with.

During the exit conference after dinner, one of the volunteers, who is a catechist and psychologist, shared about how the drawing of the kids revealed that there were no traces of trauma. It is so because most of their drawings have the image of the sun or the moon and stars. There is clear hope in the heart of these kids who continue to see the light of the day amidst the darkness of uncertainties enveloping them.

On the other hand, Doc Janice from the medical team shared that while she worried so much about the delay of medical equipment as she relied so much on them, she was so touched by one patient, who asked her not for anything but just held her hand. This elderly woman just cried in front of her and afterwards thanked her and left.

Dr. Janice realized that her hands were enough for this lady to experience healing. She surmised that healing can happen with or without her tools (which she was always dependent on) but by mere presence. As a doctor, she felt enough even without her equipment.

In the afternoon, when the bishop and some volunteers (priests, nuns, etc.) went to Loreto, the farthest place on the island, I decided to look for a family friend who lives in San Jose, the Ground Zero of ‘Odette’ in Dinagat. Her family back home has no contact with her since the typhoon. I was also worried because I have no way of looking for her except later on I learned that she used to work with the Department of Public Works and Highways.

I went then to their office hoping to find her and voila! She was so surprised to see me that she ran towards me and hugged me while crying on my shoulder. Apart from the devastation of her small house, her mother died a week before the typhoon. Our encounter was perhaps the only time that she properly grieved. I was quite embarrassed in front of the many people looking at us but I also hugged her in return if only to console her. Hugging her is the gesture that I would like to do to everyone that I meet here in the island if it will give them any consolation. I gave her the goods later on right at her hovel but I know that those goods are only secondary to her real needs.

This day I felt that I am touched to the core. I am humbled as a human person and as a priest. I felt helpless due to the enormity of the ministry but in some ways also I felt useful in the strange hand of God.

In his first homily in the island, Bishop Dael stressed that ‘love has no specific opportunity for expression.’ Every moment then, whether good or bad, is always an opportunity to love. I thanked God sincerely for giving me this opportunity.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Fr. Raymond Montero Ambray heads the Ecology Desk of the Diocese of Tandag. He is a graduate of MA Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University, a member of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines and a founding member of Caraga Watch, an environmental watchdog. He is part of the think tank of the Bishop of Tandag on IP Apostolate, formation on Environment and the Historical Commission. This diary was first published on his FB page. MindaNews was granted permission to publish this.)