Typhoon recovery efforts show world a united Church

A family displaced by Typhoon Haiyan washes their clothes outside makeshift shelters in Anibong, a community in Tacloban, Philippines, Feb. 4.


A family displaced by Typhoon Haiyan washes their clothes outside makeshift shelters in Anibong, a community in Tacloban, Philippines, Feb. 4./h3>

February 17, 2014

An emotional Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila welcomed Catholic leaders reviewing Typhoon Haiyan recovery efforts, saying that the work to rebuild devastated communities can show the world a Church united in the service of people in need.

Tears welled up as he described the utter destruction he saw during a visit to Tacloban soon after the Nov. 8 typhoon swept in from the sea with 310-km-an-hour winds and a tsunami-like storm surge.

But Tagle reminded the international delegation Feb. 3 that storm survivors can teach visitors about the importance of perseverance and maintaining faith in God.

"I don't know how we could make the whole world realize how much we could help. For a few days (during my visit) we knew it was possible for humankind to be together, to be one, to feel for one another and to transcend the barriers, all the baggage, the history that religion, that politics, the financial economy has imposed on everyone," Tagle said.

"In that regard we saw the response and demand here," he told a delegation of more than a dozen representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Relief Services and Caritas Australia in a meeting at the offices of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines.

"There is so much hope for the world. We just prayed that this will be sustained and will not become sporadic, only occasional. We hope it becomes a lifestyle to be spearheaded by Christians."


Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., USCCB president, who led the delegation on its weeklong visit to the Philippines, told Tagle that the U.S. Church wanted to work side-by-side with Filipinos in the long recovery process.

"We know there is one Church and we want to be partners with you," he said.

Tagle acknowledged that recovery and rebuilding is likely to take years because the devastation was so great, reaching across 12 dioceses in the central part of the country with the Palo Archdiocese and Borongon Diocese experiencing the most serious damage.

In some locales, 90 per cent of buildings and homes – more than 550,000 in all – were smashed into matchsticks.

Cardinal Luis Tagle

Cardinal Luis Tagle

As of Jan. 29, more than 6,200 people had died and more than 28,600 were injured in the storm while nearly 1,800 remained missing, according to the Philippines' National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. More than four million people were displaced by the storm.


Two tropical storms swamped parts of the same regions in January, forcing some who lost their homes in November and were living in tents to flee to higher ground again.

Tagle said natural disasters are the norm for the island nation and that he has come to see how important local parishes are in offering shelter and in serving as centres for sanitation and hygiene, the distribution of food and support for displaced people.

"At least for me," he told the delegation, "it has become a special lesson, because in moments like these a place of worship also becomes a place of charity.

"The place is made sacred not by sacraments and prayer but by the belief that we can find a refuge here. It is our home."

Compounding the challenges, the cardinal added, is the trauma experienced by priests, women religious and lay leaders at parishes, who are struggling with their own losses of family, possessions and secure housing.


"The Church structure is in a state of shock," Tagle said. "We have been offering emotional and psychological first aid."

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, president of the Philippine bishops' conference, said the time has come to build churches that will serve not just for worship but as community centres and shelters when a natural disaster occurs.

Villegas said the need to rebuild schools is great. He feared students from poor families will not be able to continue their education for quite some time.

"The rich students have moved out to either Manila or Cebu," the archbishop explained to the delegation.

Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Manila, chairman of Caritas Philippines, sought support so that the Philippine Church and society overall can better respond when disaster strikes.