One month after the largest typhoon on record hit the Philippines, most of the world has moved on to other emergencies, public and private. For that country, though, “normal” has forever been relativized. About 80% of the city of Tacloban, capital of the province of Leyte, was destroyed by wind and six-foot tall waves. As of last week (Nov. 30), 5,632 people have died, 1,759 remain missing, over 26,000 sustain injuries, and 4 million nationwide are displaced.
If nothing else, the nation is resilient, and I think I know their secret. As Japan stood as a witness of dignity and decency before the world in the aftermath of its earthquake and tsunami, so now the Philippines offers an enviable example of collaboration and community:
- Skilled social workers from the Preda Foundation and other religious and humanitarian organizations supplement government initiatives on site to protect the “orphans of Yolanda” from abuse and exploitation.
- On Nov. 30, three hundred religious, clergy, and laity attended a daylong lecture in Manila on “Psychological First Aid, Debriefing, Counseling and Coaching.” It was designed as part of a program of training religious volunteers in post-disaster intervention.
- Communities and organizations are using their resources and areas of expertise in the service of the needy: Salesians, the Order of Malta, Guanellians, Jesuits, Caritas, Catholic Relief Services, and hundreds of women religious, including—I’m proud to say—Daughters of St. Paul.
- Foreign NGOs that already collaborate with local ones. Others joined forces with Filipino organizations both under, or independently from, Catholic auspices. The Catholic Church in the U.S. has dropped $20 million into the collection basket, no doubt with more to follow.
Much of the efficiency in this collaboration and sense of community stems from a grassroots spirit of initiative. As one Filipino bishop said, this is a time for helping each other, not pointing figures at each other or at the government.
To paraphrase St. Paul the Apostle: Where evil has abounded, good news is abounding even more (cf. Rom. 5:20).
All this makes even more ludicrous the statement of a Filipina media professional, who spoke at a conference I attended a few years ago. Her message: The Church has to relinquish control of the Filipino people. To progress, they must get out from under the thumb of the Catholic Church.
She mentioned two areas of concern: population control and influencing the media. In these weeks other activists have exploited the typhoon to buttress this agenda. Some have taken authorities’ comments about supplying people with food out of context, to advance the notion that if the Philippines had fewer people, fewer would have died! Why stop at limiting births, then? Why not extend that population control to those with disabilities, since such people suffered double the mortality rate of the rest of the population?
While a coalition of Churches, media, and educational institutions might do more to carve out a place for natural family planning in the culture, it won’t go anywhere if it’s trumpeted as a safeguard against the aftereffects of natural disaster. In addition, as an interesting blog post by the Population Research Institute points out, access to contraception, promoted by the government’s Reproductive Health Bill, is not the panacea to either overpopulation or maternal mortality.
In one of the most densely populated nations on the planet, collaboration is key to survival, communion is the secret to life. In a place where “family” extends beyond those dwelling under the same roof, there is always room for one more person. As long as it treasures life, the Philippines will always bounce back from every challenge.
This Advent we might pray in solidarity with the Philippines in the light of its Marian celebrations. The Immaculate Conception, deferred this year to Dec. 9, and Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12 are feasts of an expectant Mother. Hope, new life, salvation, contemplative, yet active waiting, and the faith-filled cry for justice and compassion bring her figure into sharp relief for every believer who seeks to live the gift of faith in a world with more questions than answers, in sure hope of the day when we “will have no more questions to ask” (Jn. 16:23).
Our sisters in the Philippines offer their grateful prayers of thanks for all of you who have donated to their relief efforts, either by mail or online at pauline.org/givehope. To date, you have given $7,562 to a fundraising campaign that will last until Epiphany, Jan. 5. Your donations have already been sent to our generalate in Rome, where our superior general has set up a fund for our sisters in the Philippines to draw from directly. Their priorities are the families of our collaborators, co-workers, and sisters who have lost everything, especially in Tacloban, where, until the typhoon, we had a community and media center. We will update you about plans to re-establish our presence there when we learn more. Meanwhile, the Daughters of St. Paul in Manila are reaching out especially to evacuees, participating in local programs and connecting them also to the Pauline mission, with reading, material support, and their faith-filled presence. If you would like to donate, click here https://secure.acceptiva.com/?cst=c97cee. Your contribution will enable the sisters to continue bringing hope in God to all those they minister to.