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Stories of pain, stories of love

The recent devastation in the Philippines, the worst typhoon to hit the country, is still wreaking havoc and destruction to lives, property and futures of many people. Visiting Manila on Sunday for Mass, I encountered people with various stories of hardships due to Saturday’s terribly copious rainfall and relentless floods.

People were stranded in traffic for an entire day, an entire night, in both north and south Luzon expressways. Entire communities turned into instant pools, and later, sea of raging, murky floodwaters. Houses were engulfed in the flood and young and old people survived by climbing on the roofs of their houses for safety. Property, cash, important papers, photos and other personal effects were destroyed in an instant. Many people fled to schools, chapels, barangay halls or friends’ houses for temporary shelter. So many people were in need of clean water, food, clothes and money to rebuild their lives. Mourning soon followed at the discovery of the dead bodies of those who drowned.

This scenario is precisely the case atheists have against God and religion. If God is good, if there is a God at all, then why do these things happen to innocent people? Why does evil triumph? Why do natural and man-made disasters befall an unsuspecting humanity?

But there is no adequate human response to the great question of evil and suffering. These themes have always been a mystery. People without faith or people with fragile trust stumble and fall into the temptation of giving up on God, of declaring his absence, or proclaiming his death. There is no reality called God as long as the world knows only pain.

Christians are people who go through life embracing everything that comes their way. We rejoice at the happy moments and over great companions. We also meet the same trials that befall the rest of men. We get sick, we figure in accidents, we experience rejection and betrayal, we fall prey to nature’s wrath. But one thing separates us from the atheist.

When unbelievers come face to face with the tragic episodes of life, they despair. They finish off their quest with a period that says there is no hope, nothing to expect from an absent God. It is the easier route, for it takes attention from someone above us and casts our focus on what we, in our human capacity, can and must do.

Christians, however, do not mark their quest with a period. They use a comma, they open their eyes to sense a deeper, more profound mystery that cannot be hidden, cannot be defeated, by any disheartening event of life. They know that something else is happening that can only come from something or rather, someone greater than human beings.

How do we explain the emergence of super-abundant love in the midst of unspeakable evil? When the floods were rising, people did not think of themselves. They thought of others. Parents did not sleep until they learned their children were safe. People opened their doors to relatives, friends, neighbors and even to strangers who needed a place of security, who needed a helping hand. As soon as the floodwaters rose, individuals and groups were already organizing operations for assistance and relief.

Students and other young people flocked to relief centers for voluntary work. Churches announced special collections for the victims. Government and non-government units mobilized their systems to ensure a steady flow of help for the needy.

Strange though it may seem, but the sufferers themselves were also capable of thinking of others, not only of their interests. A man in an evacuation center was interviewed on television. The reporter asked the man to plead to the viewers for whatever he needed at that moment. Grabbing the microphone, the man explained that there were many hungry children, sick elderly and wet people in the center with him. He was not asking anything for himself but milk for the children, medicines for the old, food for the moms to prepare, clothes to warm the cold, trembling bodies. From a victim of hardships, flowed concern for his fellow-sufferers.

This goodness that now surrounds us, this compassion that brings us together, this solidarity that makes us forget our artificial barriers – all these originate in love. Not any other type of love, but a love that transcends our human limits and makes us so like the One who first showed us love.

This love that mysteriously grows in spite of the harshness of situations reveals to us the presence of God, moving within us and among us. His love assures us that no one is forgotten and abandoned, that all are cared for as His children.

There is hope after this disaster because we know how to love. There is hope because God is here with us in the way we serve each other. The love we feel and share is the greatest mystery of God’s dwelling among men and women of all times.