Philippine Catholics make lifelong sacrifice after typhoon

Philippine Catholics make lifelong sacrifice after typhoon
This photo taken on February 16, 2014 shows survivors of Super Typhoon Haiyan (L to R) Virginia Piedad, Elsie Indic, Ma. Catalina Consuelo, and Maricel Martinez, posing for a photo along a road where they marched on November 18, 2013, during a religious procession in Tolosa on the eastern Philippine island of Leyte, over one week after Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated the area.
OPONG, Philippines - Returning to their destroyed village after a catastrophic typhoon that killed thousands in the Philippines last year, a weary band of Catholics vowed a lifelong sacrifice to thank God for saving them.

They had walked through the streets of their hometown for three consecutive days before the storm with icons in hand while praying and asking the Lord to spare them from the looming disaster.

Although giant ocean surges that swept through their coastal village destroyed many homes, and some of the most powerful winds recorded on land tore roofs off others, all of the roughly 3,500 residents of Opong survived.

The devotees' ensuing vow was to perform a religious procession similar to their pre-typhoon marches at least twice a week for the rest of their lives.

"We want to thank the Lord for giving us a second chance at life. We want to thank Him for giving us the strength of our faith," Elsie Indi, a mother-of-four, who is one of the regular members of the procession, told AFP after a recent march.

Ten days after Super Typhoon Haiyan hit, AFP photographer Philippe Lopez took a dramatic photo of Indi at the head of the Opong procession that came to symbolise the devotion, hope and resilience of many typhoon survivors.

The image won the Spot News category in the prestigious World Press Photo Awards, and was named by Time magazine as one of the top 10 images of 2013.

Lucky escape

Indi, 42, her invalid husband and four children fled their home just after dawn on November 8 as knee-deep water rushed in, racing ahead of the torrent to a rice paddy at the base of a mountain about one kilometre (0.6 miles) away.

They, along with many other residents of Opong, sheltered in the muddy field for about six hours, waiting for the storm surges to recede into the Pacific Ocean and the intense rain to pass.

During that time, the typhoon killed or left missing about 8,000 people in towns and cities of the central Philippines near Opong, making it the country's deadliest storm on record.

"Everyone in Opong survived, we can thank God for that," Indi said.

During the most chaotic and desperate period immediately after the typhoon, some of the residents of Opong held their processions twice a day. The procession, involving anywhere from a few people to more than 20, took more than an hour.

Such acts of devotion are common even outside times of disaster in the Philippines, where about 80 per cent of the nation's 100 million people are Catholic thanks to a Spanish colonial heritage.

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