Caraycaray footbridge. Photo by Jalmz
Caraycaray footbridge. Photo by Jalmz

AS A MATTER OF FACT By Sara Soliven De Guzman (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 25, 2017 – 12:00am

As the dark clouds continue to hover over us, we think of our countrymen who became victims of these last minute typhoons – Urduja and Vinta.

Urduja hit the country a few days before Christmas. Bicol, Eastern Visayas, Central Visayas, Western Visayas, Mimaropa and the Caraga Region have been affected. Badly hit was the province of Biliran. Places affected by the six landfalls of the storm have been declared in a state of calamity.

According to NDRRMC spokesperson Romina Marasigan they have already recorded 45 casualties and 46 missing individuals. 11,447 families are still at the 225 evacuation centers, while 11,989 are staying with their relatives living in other areas.

Typhoon Urduja has affected 10,779 homes, 2,762 of the affected homes are totally damaged while 8,017 are partially damaged.

The latest report from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) registered P1-billion in damages due to Typhoon Urduja. Damage to infrastructure was cost at P550-million; agriculture, P475-million particularly on corn, rice and other high-value crops and livestock in the provinces of Masbate, Sorsogon, Camarines Sur, Cebu, Leyte, Biliran, Southern Leyte, Samar, Eastern Samar and Northern Samar.

We have barely recovered from the havoc that was Urduja, Vinta came and rampage Mindanao. The death toll in Mindanao from floods and slides caused by typhoon Vinta (international name Tembin) had risen to over 100 as of Saturday. Lanao del Norte suffered the most number of deaths at 62, including two deaths in Iligan City, followed by Zamboanga del Norte at 46. Lanao del Sur registered 18 deaths, according to the provincial government, although the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao’s emergency agency reported a higher number at 21. Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur have declared state of calamity.

Victims of these two typhoons are surely in a sad situation as they celebrate Christmas Day. Let us pray for them and reach out. Let’s bring out our Filipino spirit of brotherhood during this season.

We need to gain inner strength and inner peace as we continue to tread the deep and dangerous waters in our country. Many times in the past, both man-made and natural disasters have put us to the test. At the end of the day, as we continue to suffer and make sacrifices in our daily plight, our spirit either breaks apart or we gain more strength and adapt good virtues.

* * *

After all the holiday parties and shopping galore, we should find some quiet time and peace in our hearts to reflect on Christmas. Today we celebrate Christmas, the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ.

In case you do not know, Christmas means “Christ’s Mass.” This was that special day when the angels proclaimed Jesus as the savior of mankind.

My father wrote a piece entitled, “While soldiers watched their flock by night.” It helps us realize the meaning of Christmas. While we celebrate this special day with family and friends, let us not forget that Christ is in us.

One of the finest explanations of the meaning of Christmas comes from a non-Christian. This was Rabindranath Tagore, a Bengali poet and philosopher who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1913. He said that “every child comes with a message that God is not yet discouraged of man.”

When you ponder that thought, you realize how true it is. The Indian philosopher was not, of course referring to the Child Jesus specifically but this line encapsulates God’s great plan for man’s redemption. To borrow that unforgettable opening line from Charles Dicken’s “Tale of Two Cities,” when Jesus was born, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” He came into the world as a child to save mankind. He was called the “Prince of Peace,” and yet, from the moment He was born, men were sent out to hunt Him down and kill Him. The Greatest Story Ever Told almost ended up as a murder story.

How much the chaotic and desperate world of today was the era into which the Christ Child was born. Joseph and Mary had journeyed to Bethlehem by government edict, to register for tax purposes. They couldn’t find a place to stay, and so, like the poor of the streets they sought shelter where they could find it, not under a bridge or in a squatters’ jungle, but as it happened, in a cave.

The rest, all Christians know by heart. And this is what is wrong with modern Christmas. It has become so routine… we have Christmas parties… gift-giving… the Midnight Masses, and finally the “Noche Buena.”

When Christmas degenerates into a ritual, even worse, a ritual duty, and we begin to notice ourselves observing Christmas without Christianity, it is the time for us to review our priorities. The essayist and novelist, Robert Louis Stevenson, once quipped – “There is no duty we so much underrate as duty of being happy.”

Many years ago, my wife and I visited the Holy Land for the first time, scheduling our trip for the Christmas season, in quest to recapture the spirit of Christmas. It was, in a sense, a disappointment.

For Christmas had been grossly commercialized in the Shepherd’s Fields, where once the Herald Angels appeared to sing of the Birth. Souvenir shops were gouging the pilgrims and cynically exploiting the tourist dollars.

The cave of the Nativity had been overbuilt by an orate chapel gleaming with marble and silver. There was no longer any real cave, but the aspect of a mausoleum. And the priests of various Christian faiths – Roman Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox Armenian, were squabbling over which portion belonged to them.

In earlier days, there were Jordanian policemen and Muslim of course, guarding the Nativity shrine and the next-door Church, to make sure the Christians didn’t cut each others’ throats. When Israel conquered the area in the Six-Day War, the Jordanian policemen were replaced by Israelite policemen.

Midnight Mass in Bethlehem turned out to be chaotic. The church was packed and a huge crowd outside tried to push their way in. Fistfights erupted.

In the chilly night, huddled in our heavy wool coats, we shed tears of frustration. We looked up and espied the Christmas Star, shining serenely as it did two thousand years ago. The star seemed to say to us – Christmas is not here – it is in your hearts!”

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