GUIUAN, Philippines - Grieving survivors of a monster typhoon in the mainly Catholic Philippines gathered in shattered churches on Sunday, listening to soothing sermons, asking questions of God and feeling a ray of hope.
Nine days after some of the strongest winds ever recorded and tsunami-like waves destroyed dozens of coastal towns and killed thousands of people, the services offered a moment to escape the grinding battle to survive in the wastelands.
Aid has been slow reaching the millions of affected people, but an enormous international relief operation picked up momentum over the weekend, bringing food, water and medical supplies and airlifting basic necessities to isolated communities.
About 300 people in Guiuan, the first town to be hit by Super Typhoon Haiyan, attended Sunday mass in the courtyard of the ruined 400-year-old Immaculate Conception church.
"I wish to thank the Lord. We asked for his help for all the people who survived this typhoon to be able to eat and continue a life that is hopefully more blissful," Belen Curila, an elegantly dressed 71-year-old, told AFP.
"The Lord has strengthened our faith and made us stronger in order for us to survive and start off all over again."
Delivering the homily, Father Arturo Cablao commended the community's strength of spirit, as parishioners - some of them silently weeping - stood among twisted roofing sheets, glass shards and mud.
About 80 per cent of the Philippines' 100 million people are Catholic, a legacy of Spanish colonial rule, and their steadfast faith was on display throughout the central islands that were devastated by Haiyan.
In Tacloban, the capital city of Leyte that was one of the hardest-hit cities, hundreds of devotees sat on flood-soaked pews at the 124-year-old Santo Nino church, which had its roof ripped off by Haiyan's ferocious winds.
Violeta Simbulan, 63, said the priest's sermon promising that God would always be there offered her comfort while trying to cope with losing two cousins and an aunt in the disaster.
"Yes, I was reassured. As long as I have faith and constantly pray to God," Simbulan said.