11 November 2013, The Tablet

Church rushing aid to areas devastated by Philippines typhoon

Church aid agencies are at the forefront of efforts to rebuild islands in the Philippines that were devastated by Typhoon Haiyan last Friday.

Initial reports suggested that more than 10,000 people were killed when the storm, one of the strongest ever to make landfall, devastated six central Philippine islands, causing tidal surges that completely destroyed a number of cities including Tacloban in Leyte province.

While the confirmed death toll by midweek was lower than initially expected, at 2,275, around 11 million people urgently need aid and 600,000 have been made homeless in the disaster.

Some 80 per cent of Filipinos are Catholic, 10 per cent are Evangelical, and the Churches will play a vital role in relief efforts.

On Wednesday the Philippines’ bishops’ conference opened a new social action centre in Calbayog, on Samar Island, which has been completely cut off from the power grid.

The city is closest to affected areas on the island that remain inaccessible and the base will distribute aid to the two dioceses of Borongan and Calbayog.

About 22 of the 86 archdioceses, dioceses and apostolic vicariates in the country have been affected by the typhoon. The bishops' conference has declared a nationwide nine-day prayer and charity drive and the President of the Bishops' Conference, Archbishop Jose Palma, said that all Masses and prayers would be offered for the dead and the families they left behind.

Priests in affected areas have been asked to reinforce their parish buildings, and the Bishop of Sorsogon, Arturo Bastes, declared parish buildings "safe areas" to serve as evacuation centres.

Bishop Julito Cortes of Dumaguete prayed that victims' faith would sustain them, adding that "knowledge and faith" must combine to respond to the disaster. "Our faith is stronger than any problem or any calamities," he said.

Caritas, the Church’s aid agency, said that much of the country's infrastructure has been destroyed, making delivering aid to remote areas difficult.

Shortly after the typhoon struck, Fr Edwin Gariguez, Executive Secretary of Caritas Philippines-NASSA, said that the destruction was catastrophic and beyond all expectations.

"The casualties are increasing day by day. There are dead bodies everywhere. People are traumatised. The most urgent needs are for food and water," he said.

A Caritas aid worker, Rey Barnido, said his first impression on arrival in Tacloban, was that it looked “as if nuclear bombs were dropped."

On Tuesday, eight people died when survivors stormed a supply warehouse looking for food.

Guiuan, a town with a population of 40, 000 in the province of Eastern Samar, was largely destroyed while the town of Baco, in Oriental Mindoro, was left 80 per cent underwater, according to the UN.

Cafod and the Scottish Catholic Aid Fund have launched emergency appeals for donations, and Cafod said it would organise an emergency second collection in parishes in England and Wales this weekend. In addition, the DEC, of which Cafod is a member, has also launched an appeal.

Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need has sent an emergency aid package of €100, 000 (£84, 600) to be directed by the Bishops’ Conference toward providing food, clean water, shelter and basic mediciene.

The Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, urged British Catholics to support the relief effort and said that the Filipino community was a vital part of parish life in England.

"Now, in their hour of need, we must support them in prayer and generosity," he said. The Bishops' Conference of England and Wales said that Masses would be offered at Westminster Cathedral on Friday at 5:30pm for those affected by the disaster.

On Wednesday and on Sunday Pope Francis urged worshippers to pray for victims.

To donate to the Typhoon Haiyan appeal via Cafod please click here.
Above: A boy gathers coins and other salvageable materials with others from the ruins of houses battered by Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban

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