Nine years ago, on the day after Christmas in 2004, an earthquake far below the surface of the Indian Ocean unleashed an act of nature that staggered the human imagination and made even I stop to ask, “Where were you, O Lord.” Over 200,000 lives were lost as one of the largest and most devastating tsunamis swept parts of the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and the southernmost tip of the Indian sub-continent. Hundreds of thousands who did survive were left without housing, access to food and water, and a total absence of sanitation. Only the fast action of the community of nations and non-governmental organizations saved the survivors from typhoid and dysentery. Catholic Relief Services, your national church’s agency, helped to rebuild lives in all three places, returning families to almost 9000 totally new homes able to withstand earthquakes of the magnitude of 9.0 and far enough away from the sea that a tsunami of even more historic proportions would not reach them. In a Muslim and Hindu land, the Catholic people of the United States represented by CRS were greatly appreciated.
The two main islands hit by Typhoon Haiyan, Leyte and Samar, are home to 3.6 million people (including the families of Fathers Allen Tupa, Glen Diaz, and Cesar Patilla) of whom are Catholic as our faith is very strong in those islands.
Most are without the basic necessities and wandering the streets looking for food among the garbage and water which is so contaminated that they should not even get near it. US troops are already on station and CRS is moving its resources into the area as this is being written. I remember CRS staffer Pat Johns who led the tsunami recovery in Indonesia that the first thing he did was to buy every plastic bucket that the local equivalent of Walmart or Home Depot or Lowes had on the island of Sumatra and drive them into the disaster zone, thereby giving people something to carry clean, purified water to their shelters for drinking and cooking sparing the population dysentery, diarrhea, and other potentially lethal diseases.
The Philippines need our help desperately and CRS is our delivery vehicle of mercy.
I am asking that second collections be taken up in all our parish churches for the next two weekends (Nov. 16-17 and Nov. 23-24) and at Mass on Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 28) to be forwarded immediately to CRS (see letter).
Brendan Stack and his family are parishioners at the Cathedral parish in St. Petersburg. Brendan went to Jesuit High School in Tampa and then earned his bachelor’s degree at Loyola University of Maryland. During his time at Loyola he asked my assistance and he went as a CRS summer intern (of sorts) to a remote area of India where he worked hard in a CRS and parish program. When he graduated from Loyola in May of 2011 he spent a year with the Jesuit Volunteer Corp in Boise, Idaho teaching English to poor, mostly undocumented Mexicans and serving meals at a Salvation Army feeding center. Those experiences plus his own human longings led him to begin in the Fall of 2012 a Masters degree program in Public Health at Boston University. Last week he was working as a CRS intern in disaster relief and response on the Philippine island of Bolon which had just experienced a 7.0 earthquake rendering 250,000 inhabitants homeless. Last Friday he hunkered down as Typhoon Haiyan took aim on where he was working. I spoke with him by SKYPE on Friday before the storm hit (the eye passed about 125 miles north of where Brendan was staying with the other members of the CRS team working on the earthquake response. He was fearless, not worried for himself but deeply worried for the Philippine people whose lives would be forever changed by the oncoming storm. On Saturday I got a text message from Brendan that he was safe but that the CRS team was meeting all day to develop a strategy for meeting the new challenge. That’s the way CRS and its people are: if somewhere outside of the US there are people in dire need because of a natural or manmade disaster, CRS will be there in their midst with a dedicated core of people to help them make it through today with some scant hope for tomorrow.
Please be generous. This requires all of us to perhaps dig a little deeper, inflict a tad more financial pain on ourselves, sacrifice so that others may live. Nothing less than the NEW YORK TIMES declared this a disaster of “epic proportions” and even as I write this, three days after the storm, we still do not have a good handle on how many million people we must now care for.
The Indonesians on the island of Sumatra left when the Navy Aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy sailed away from Banda Ache when they had done all they could, when the Australian army left having been the very first responders to the tsunami and when Catholic Relief Services completed its work of rebuilding in northwestern Sumatra. CRS representing Catholics proved once again that we are friends when others are in need, friends indeed.
Please keep all of our Filipino brothers and sisters and all of the emergency personnel responding in your prayers.
Prayer for the Philippines (courtesy of CRS)
“God, who quiets great winds and stills rough seas,
We ask your protection for the people of the Philippines.
Comfort them in their fear.
Stay close to them in their danger.
And we ask the intercession of Your Blessed Mother
That together with her and with all your holy saints
We may stand in solidarity with our Filipino brothers and sisters
through their darkest hour,
through their longest night.
Give us the courage to remain steadfast
To reach out to them in their need
To comfort them in their sorrow
To hold them as closely as You hold them
To see them through to morning.