Typhoon Haiyan brings Christians together in disaster -- Gazette.Net


Tarin Sustento, a 3-year-old boy whose great-aunt, Adora Carolino, attends Our Lady Help of Christians Catholic Church in Waldorf, is among the 1,900 who are missing after Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines on Nov. 8.

Tarin’s parents were killed when water filled up their home in Tacloban.

Almost 6,000 died, and 4 million people have been displaced by the typhoon’s destruction, according to CNN.com.

Two other Filipino families at Our Lady also lost loved ones in the typhoon.

Our Lady’s Rev. Alain Colliou traveled Nov. 20 to the Philippines to help look for Tarin.

“I’ve seen poverty, but I’ve never seen anything like that devastation,” said Colliou, who has traveled a lot in his life as an employee of the World Bank and as a priest. “But people are joyful [in Tacloban].”

Once he decided on the afternoon of Nov. 18 to fly to San Francisco and make it Nov. 20 to the Philippines, Colliou said he did not know where he would stay in Tacloban. He was in San Francisco waiting for his 14-and-a-half-hour flight to Manila, Philippines, on Nov. 20 when he got word that the vice mayor of Tacloban, a friend of a parishioner’s niece, would assist him in finding a place to stay. Colliou also had the name of a priest in Palo to contact.

When Colliou arrived Wednesday morning in Manila, the vice mayor had a car waiting for him, and a text message let Colliou know that he could stay at St. John’s Seminary in Palo with Father Oscar Florencio. Palo is a town near the city of Tacloban.

Colliou said he immediately witnessed the typhoon’s destruction at the airport in Manila and on his way to the seminary. And a story awaited him at the seminary, where 40 seminary students had barely survived rising water in the one-story seminary.

Colliou said the seminarians told him that the water rose in the seminary until it was up to their necks. All 40 students survived.

“That’s the good story, right? That’s the good story in the seminary I was at in Palo. The bad story is the story of Rex and Adora’s family,” Colliou said. Rex and Adora Carolino are parishioners at Our Lady, and Rex Carolino serves as the church’s building manager.

Adora Carolino’s niece, Geraldine Sustento, and her husband, Jonas Sustento, were killed by rising water in their Tacloban home. Jonas Sustento’s parents were also killed, but Geraldine’s sister and brother-in-law survived. Geraldine and Jonas’s 3-year-old son Tarin remains missing. The family has held out hope that the boy, who is mildly autistic, will be found alive because his mother placed a life jacket on him just before rising water swept him from the family’s home.

“We’re hopeful,” Adora Carolino said. “But, then again, if he didn’t make it we have already begun to accept that.” Adora Carolino said she and Geraldine Sustento, 31, grew up more like sisters and were very close.

As bodies are recovered, Adora Carolino said, none of them match Tarin’s description, and so much time has passed that the only way to identify bodies now is by DNA. An 18-year-old woman said she thought she saw Tarin with a couple after the typhoon.

On the Friday after his arrival, Colliou said the bodies of six women were recovered on the street the Sustentos lived on. Colliou was asked to look at a child’s body to see if it was Tarin, but the child was a girl. Colliou blessed the bodies.

He said he spoke to the Sustentos’s neighbor, a 62-year-old woman who lost her 20-year-old handicapped son in the flooding, but she survived by holding on to a bamboo tree. Her son’s body was later found.

Colliou said Our Lady of Fatima Parish, the church attended by the Sustentos and their family, lost more than 100 parish members.

He said as a priest, he is thankful Geraldine and Jonas Sustento were married in the Catholic church before they died and that Tarin was baptized in the Catholic church. Adora Carolino said the couple was married in December 2010.

“We can’t wait. We don’t know if we’ll be here tomorrow,” Colliou said of the Sustentos’ decision to marry in the church and have their son baptized.

Colliou asked around about Tarin and showed a photograph of him, but nobody had seen him. Because Tarin is autistic, Colliou said hope remains that Tarin made it to a nearby village and is alive but is unable to tell anyone his name or that he is from Tacloban.

“I think he survived,” Colliou said. “It’s still my hope that he may be somewhere else [with a family].”

After his return on Thanksgiving Day to Waldorf, Colliou learned that another family at Our Lady Help had been affected by the typhoon. The Carlos family lost their 76-year-old uncle named Lito in the flooding.

Emelda Driscoll, who plays piano at Our Lady Help, was raised and lived in Tacloban for 30 years. Colliou said her aunt and two brothers died in the typhoon.

Colliou said his trip to the Philippines showed him the unity that exists between his church in Waldorf and the church in Tacloban. Our Lady has 1,200 parishioners who attend six Sunday masses, and, Colliou said, about 50 families in the church are Filipino. Three families were affected by the typhoon.

“I think what I found, despite all of the destruction you saw, is a sense of hope,” Colliou said. People were helping people with a spirit of Christianity. The people of Tacloban also welcomed Colliou.

Catholicism was brought to the Philippines by the Spanish more than 300 years ago, Colliou said, and the country remains “very Catholic.” Colliou hopes Our Lady will continue a connection with Our Lady Fatima Parish in the Philippines.

“[We are] a family of Christians. We are together,” Colliou said.

Our Lady raised $2,200 in one November weekend with the church’s Holiday House for Catholic Relief Services to help the victims of Typhoon Haiyan.