US archbishop recounts lessons learned from visiting typhoon-ravaged PH

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Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, greets a child in Anibong, a community in Tacloban City, Feb. 4. Archbishop Kurtz traveled with an international delegation of church leaders to assess the needs of communities affected by Typhoon Yolanda. (Tyler Orsburn/Catholic News Service)

MANILA, Feb. 23, 2014—The president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) lauded the courage and resiliency of the Filipino people amid the devastation wrought by Super Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) to Central Philippines late last year. 

In his visit to Eastern Visayas early this month, Louisville Archbishop Joseph Kurtz had a first-hand encounter with typhoon-ravaged communities, witnessing their immediate needs for aid and assistance that could help them rebuild their lives. 

Together with other delegates representing the US bishops and Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Kurtz recounted his journey, noting the hopeful attitude of Filipinos in coping with unfortunate circumstances. 

“Anibong was my first encounter with a neighborhood devastated by the typhoon…Walking among some houses now reduced to rubble, I encountered some young people playing basketball,” Kurtz wrote in his blog entry titled “What I learned in the Philippines” published in the USCCB blog site. 

“Children are a great prism to view the life of a community. They reflect the values of their families and conditions at home. Speaking to these young people, I saw something I would see repeatedly: the courage and resiliency of the Filipino people,” he said. 

Kurtz noted the unwavering faith of the people, saying that despite the tragic incident, Filipinos never lose hope and trust to the Divine. 

“What I learned was that, even as they rebuild their homes and struggle for their families’ livelihoods, the Filipino people have real faith and radiate what Pope Francis calls the joy of the Gospel. They have felt Yolanda’s wrath, but they feel God’s love even more,” he said. 

Super Typhoon Yolanda ravaged Central Visayas last November 8 with tsunami-like storm surges and winds of up to 315 kilometers an hour, claiming the lives of at least 6,200 people with 2,000 others still missing. Nearly four million people were also left homeless as the super typhoon severely damaged 1.1 million houses. 

‘Church as hub of community life’ 

The prelate also shared that even if the overwhelming majority of churches in the Archdiocese of Palo sustained serious damage—eight of which were completely destroyed—Filipinos still pack churches, drawing full house as they celebrated Mass at the Palo Cathedral. 

“This experience and others showed the essential role of the Church in the Philippines as a hub of community life. During Yolanda, countless people sought shelter in churches. Following the storm, churches have played a role in storing and distributing supplies. People’s everyday lives and identities are enmeshed in the parish,” Kurtz said. 

According to him, the CRS has helped build 20,000 shelters, brought clean water and sanitation services to thousands of displaced people, and supported jobless Filipinos in the typhoon-stricken areas through livelihood recovery programs, clearing debris, planting crops, and building homes. 

“It was humbling to feel the gratitude of the Filipino people and to see the warmth and emotion in their faces as they greeted us,” Kurtz said, noting the relief efforts of the CRS and different Caritas organizations from around the world. “Together they work on a scale that makes a crucial difference in the lives of individuals and communities.”

Dioceses in the United States have the option to specify whether their donations go to relief efforts or church rebuilding, Kurtz said. 

“People in the United States and around the world who have given to typhoon relief efforts don’t get to see the good that their generosity promotes…(They) should know their generosity enables essential work of the Gospel, serving those in need without any thought of repayment,” he said. 

In his brief visit to the country, Kurtz said he was overwhelmed with how united the Universal Church is, transcending diverse cultures and different backgrounds in life. 

“As I visited communities, urban and rural, and spoke, listened and prayed with the Filipino people, the sense that we are one Church overwhelmed me,” Kurtz said, noting his firm belief that Filipinos will continuously overcome tragedies to come their way. 

“The people of the Philippines are walking a difficult road, but the whole Church walks it together, as we are present in our relief efforts, our friendship and our prayers,” he said. (Jennifer Orillaza)

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