Christmas eve in Loboc

BOHOL, Philippines – It's a far cry from the kind of church they're used to.

A wide outdoor square serves as the "interior." Tents protect church-goers and the altar. Just beside them is the badly damaged St Peter the Apostle Church in the town of Loboc in Bohol.

Still, hundreds of locals gathered in the area to celebrate Christmas Eve mass together – famly, friends, and the entire community – around what's left standing of the centuries-old church. The world famous Loboc Children's Choir also joined the community. 

Fr Andres Ayco, Loboc parish priest, said the magnitude-7.2 earthquake and its succeeding aftershocks damaged up to 30% of the church. National heritage groups tell him the church will have to be reconstructed – taken down first and restored, piece by piece.

Loboc's locals will have to be patient, said Ayco. It will take time before they get their old church back. After all, many other historic churches in the province were reduced to rubble during the earthquake.

"Loon, Maribojoc, Baclayon, Loay... Loon, Maribojoc, Baclayon, Loay... murag litanya sa mga santo ang kagaghang simbahan na naguba," he told church-goers during Christmas eve Mass in Loboc. (The number of churches damaged almost sounds like a litany of saints.)

But it shouldn't be reason for people to be complacent. "Misking naa'y gobyerno na involved, dili pasibuot na dili na ta mutabang. Atong ning simbahan, syempre dapat magpaabot gyud ta," he added. (Even if government is there, it doesn't mean we don't need to help. This is our Church, and we have to do our best to rebuild it.)

It's a lot to ask from a community that's recovering from the devastation of the strong quake. Just do what you can, said Ayco. But he emphasized: this is our church, and one day it will stand proud again. –