BOHOL - Two statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary stand-without any blemish-amid the ruins of two churches in Maribojoc and Loon towns following Tuesday's devastating earthquake. It was enough for residents to raise their hopes that life will get better.
"It was a miracle," Carol Ann Balansag said after residents of Barangay (village) Poblacion were surprised to find the 18th-century statue standing askew but without any scratch on the rubble of what used to be the Santa Cruz Parish Church.
The same feeling of amazement was felt by at least 600 people staying in makeshift tents on the church grounds of the Our Lady of Light Parish Church in Barangay Napu in Loon town. They were teary-eyed when they saw the grotto of the Birhen sa Kasilag (Our Lady of Light).
"The earthquake destroyed the church, but it spared our patron," said Fr. Tom Balatayo, one of the residents.
In Manila, Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle reminded Catholics to find "faith in the midst of ruins" as he noted that the historic churches destroyed by the earthquake needed something beyond physical reconstruction.
"Looking at the images of the churches crumbling, I could almost hear God's message to Saint Francis of Assisi: 'Build my Church, rebuild my church,'" Tagle said in his homily during Mass on the first day of the Philippine Conference on New Evangelization (PCNE) in Manila on Wednesday.
Thousands from across the country and Asia attended the PCNE being held at the University of Santo Tomas. Tagle said the event provided an avenue to rejuvenate the ideals of Catholicism in the midst of secularist and modernist influences buffeting its state.
"We're opening this conference in the context of the earthquake that jolted Cebu, Bohol and other parts of central Philippines," he said, adding that seeing the images of destroyed heritage churches broke his heart.
Mass in front of rubble
In Loon, about 600 evacuees attended the Mass officiated by the parish priest, Fr. Joel Ruyeras, in front of the church ruins.
Balatayo said the Mass was an offering to the Blessed Virgin for sparing the residents from the devastation that hit their town.
One of the evacuees, Amelia Sevilla, thanked the Blessed Virgin for protecting her, her husband and their four children, even though they could still feel the aftershocks.
Sevilla said she and her family fled to the church grounds for fear of a tsunami after they saw the sea recede following the quake.
"It's heartbreaking to see how these heritage churches, which became the foundation of faith for hundreds of years, have now turned into rubble. We don't even know if they can still be used again," Tagle said.
Among those destroyed or damaged during Tuesday's temblor were centuries-old churches in the towns of Baclayon, Loon, Loboc, Dauis, Dimiao, Loay and Maribojoc-all national cultural treasures or national historical landmarks found in Bohol.