Grieving typhoon survivors take solace in Sunday prayer

Grieving typhoon survivors take solace in Sunday prayer
Typhoon victims pray during a mass at the Santo Nino church in Tacloban, the Philippines, on November 17, 2013

GUIUAN, Philippines - Grieving survivors of a monster typhoon in the mainly Catholic Philippines flocked to shattered churches Sunday, listening to soothing sermons and asking questions of God nine days after the storm ripped their communities apart.

The services offered a brief respite from the grinding battle to survive in the wastelands created by some of the strongest winds ever recorded and tsunami-like waves that destroyed dozens of coastal towns and killed thousands of people.

Aid has been slow in arriving, 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.

President Benigno Aquino, who has been criticised over the speed of his government's response, called for understanding of the logistical challenges as he toured some of the worst-hit areas Sunday.

"Please have patience. These affected areas are really spread out," Aquino said, adding: "Don't lose hope."

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.

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.

"The Lord has strengthened our faith and made us stronger in order for us to survive and start off all over again," said Belen Curila, an elegantly dressed 71-year-old, who attended the mass in Guiuan.

In Tacloban, 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 was a comfort after 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.

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