We are in the central region of Negros, the principal sugar producing island in the Philippines. It is a cool evening in the sugar cane fields. Some 200 members of the comunidades de base in Linuthangan, in the bario of Mabini, Escalante, Negros Occidental, gathered here last December 19 for the evening Mass for the blessing of the new community chapel.
Negros seems to be far away from the epicenter of the typhoon Haiyàn, that brought destruction and death to the Philippines early last Nevember. However, Negros was not spared of the storm’s fury, particularly in its northern region. Many homes, as well as the ancient chapel, were leveled. One of the leaders of the community, Butch Ondoy, summed up the situation with words both succinct and eloquent: “There is no place left where we can pray.”
One of the supportive endeavors of the Commission for Social and Ecological Issues of the Augustinian Recollects in the Philippins is the reconstrction of community chapels. They call this the HeartChapel project. They are perfectly aware that the reconstruction of the place where the people are is the reconstrucion of the foundation of the community. This is stated very well by Mely Flores, coordinator of the program: “We work according to very simple criteria: The community has to be reorganized, and all of its members must take part in the reconstruction.
Reopening Celebration in Linuthangan
That is what happened in Linuthangan. Everyone came together spontaneously and shared their carpentry talents to rebuild their chapel. From the trees knocked down by the typhoon they made the boards from which they constructed the walls and pews of the chapel. And so the new chapel was built, and out of the destruction the community was reborn.
They even added a lively mural that serves as a retable. They call it “Christ of the Struggle.” It was painted by the members of an artistic group, pioneers in the art of protest and of struggle in favor of the people. “Our work is in favor of the people and within the people. We share art in the midst of their struggle, in their heart and in their faith,” says their president, Rafael Burdeos.
This mural is the contribution of that group of artists to the reconstruction efforts in assistance to the victims of the typhoon Haiyán. The central image is a figure of the risen Christ on the cross with his left fist raised. Around it are various scenes joined together by a red ribbon pulled by a dove: workers in a sugar cane field, Negros mountains and farms, and the monument to the victims of the Escalante Massacre of 1985, when some thirty workers were assassinated by army troops while Martial Law was in force.
In Linuthangan there was a grand festive celebration. The chapel has been rebuilt, and the foundation of the community has been reinforced. The pastor, Father Gerry Sabado, commented in his homily: “The true essence of the construction of the community is the participation of the people; this is the mark of the small Christian communities within our parish.” The people are happy, too, because they managed to finish the chapel before Christmas, as Junie Contiga, one of the volunteer workers, said: “We are grateful to have been able to finish the chapel before Christmas. Mary and Joseph could not find an inn in Bethlehem; the Infant Jesus who is born now has a place and a community that offer him a home and a welcome.”
Restoration of Chapels, Homes, and Schools
The HeartAnonymous campaign continues to rebuild communities, families, and towns affected by the typhoon Haiyán. To accomplish this, the Commission is comprised of three parts: HeartChapels, HeartHouse, and HeartSchool.
Five chapels have already been reconstructed, and 25 more are scheduled for restoration in various parishes and dioceses on the islands of Negros and Cebu. For the most part, these are in rural communities that provide the manpower, while the Order provides the materials and structures.
The HeartSchool program does its work in collaboration with the Association of Religious Major Superiors of the Philippines, and provides school supplies to children in remote areas affected by the typhoon. Taking responsibility for carrying out the goals of the progam up to now have been students, professors, and administrative personnel from the Augustinian Recollect UNO-R University in Bacolod.