Philippines needs YOUR help

The SMA has had a presence in the Philippines for nearly 30 years. Our principal purpose in going to the Philippines was to recruit and train priests for service in Africa. Today, Filipino SMA priests are ministering in Ghana and Tanzania. But as a quid pro quo for going to the Philippines the late Cardinal Sin asked that the SMA establish a parish in his Archdiocese. And so the Good Shepherd Parish in Las Piñas was born! It is staffed by three SMA’s – Fr Gus O’Driscoll (from Rathcormac, Cork) and two Filipino SMA priests: Frs German Patiga and Tony Gelaga.

The recent typhoon brought its tragedy home to us as Fr Gus reports. In these three articles we reproduce an edited account from his emails:

Monday, 11 November

The island of Leyte was hit by the eye of the storm. You have seen the pictures of some of the towns, especially Tacloban, crushed in Tsunami-like manner. Estimates of death? 10,000? Who knows? It might well be higher. Harrowing pictures and stories on the newspapers. The main picture this morning would break your heart! A young, dazed father, carrying the lifeless body of his 6 year old daughter in his arms to a makeshift morgue.

I feel a particular sadness because my SMA companion here in the parish for the past 6 years (he was in Ireland on FVC /Sponsors days a few years ago), Fr. German Patiga, is from that area. He was a student of mine in my early years in the Philippines. His town lies along the coast, badly damaged. It’s about 12kms from Tacloban.

His father is in hospital there, having suffered a stroke just last week.

Now he has no contact with his family; all communication systems have broken down. I was chatting with parishioners after Masses yesterday, and again this morning, who also come from that area; they also fear the worst.

We were working on relief operations this morning – rice, canned goods, water, medicines etc which are going on a truck tonight from here for his family and neighbours, and may reach in 24 hours, hopefully (in his 2nd email Fr Gus told us that the truck took 60 hours!).

There are yet no commercial flights to Tacloban, but German has got a place on a military cargo plane that is leaving at 5am Tuesday. He is anxious and worried; what will he find when he reaches home?

The Philippines is used to typhoons, landslides, ships capsizing every year. The earthquake last month in the same central islands of the country brought a lot of destruction, and a few hundred deaths. Its a time of great sadness for the nation.

We had a lot of activities in our parish over the weekend; it kept our time and minds occupied.  In the quieter times of today, the scale of the tragedy has hit home. I have not felt so sad in all my years in the Philippines.

Keep us in your prayers. Fr Gus.

If you would like to support the SMA effort in the Philippines click here to make a donation. Click on the The Greatest Need option. Your full donation – no deduction for bank charges etc – will be sent to Fr Gus to purchase what is needed to help. Thank You.

 

Thursday, 14 November

Fr German has not yet made it home. Though he spent more than 24 hours at the air base here in Manila, he failed to get a place on one of the military cargo planes; they were prioritising the army personnel and emergency relief. He then crossed the city to try and get a place on a bus, but failed again. He returned here to the parish last night in low spirits. But good news, great news came some hours later – his immediate family are safe. We thank God. A 1st cousin who was unable to get out of his home on time was killed, and 2 aunts are still unaccounted for.

There are 4 houses in his family compound – the family home and 3 other houses of his siblings and in-laws. Two houses are destroyed, a third badly damaged. But one withstood the terror of the storm, and that is what saved them, though the water was above knee level. Communication is still sparse, as they have no electricity and run out of batteries.

The other good news – he received a text an hour ago from his niece, a teacher here in our parish, who was on that vehicle that left on Monday night with food and other essential items; it has just reached his home, 60 hours later! So he is much relieved.

German has now got a ticket for a commercial flight to the neighbouring larger island of Cebu for Saturday. He feels he can make it home from there.

Stories keep coming of how the tragedy has affected families directly. One of the graphic pictures that has featured on the news is of a large fishing boat that was tossed up out of the sea and landed on a row of small houses. A man came to our parish office this morning requesting masses and prayers; his relatives were in those houses – 9 of them perished. God be merciful to them all.

Meanwhile all our parishes are busy with purchasing and packing relief goods. We hope to send more supplies as we gather sufficient for another truck or join with other parishes in getting supplies there as quickly as possible.

And we continue as best as we can with our regular activities this month – 60 children for First Communion tomorrow, 260 candidates for Confirmation on Saturday, and 22 couples for the ‘multiple wedding’ next Wednesday and Thursday.  God gives us the strength.

If you would like to support the SMA effort in the Philippines click here to make a donation. Click on the The Greatest Need option. Your full donation – no deduction for bank charges etc – will be sent to Fr Gus to purchase what is needed to help. Thank You.

 

Saturday, 16 November

Greetings again from Manila! I write this on Saturday night, after our confirmation ceremony this morning, and at the end of a very long, traumatic and pain-filled week.

Fr. German finally got a flight this morning to the neighbouring island of Cebu; from there he got a smaller aircraft to Tacloban city in the afternoon. After arriving there, he sent me the following text:

“if I had not known the condition of my family before leaving Manila, I would surely have fainted on seeing the destruction in Tacloban. Flying in to the city, I could not have ever imagined the magnitude of the destruction. I cried while the plane was descending. I still have to see the life of my family”.

In a text message received on Tuesday, 19 November, Fr German wrote: “I am now here in Palo Leyte – near to Tacloban city – with my family. My parents, siblings and their respective families are all alive. But four of my first cousins are dead and soem nephews are missing. The village next to ours is completely destroyed and there are at least 130 dead there. Our village has less than 10 dead. Our houses are either severely damaged or completely destroyed.”

As you have seen on the continuous coverage on CNN and BBC, relief aid is getting through, but very slowly. Trucks of food that have gone from Manila by road and ferry are stuck at the ports and bridges; one report this morning said there is a backlog of trucks for 2 km. The goodwill is there from the people / donors, but the system of distribution is poor.

Parishes continue the relief operation. Here in Good Shepherd Parish, and with SMA Philippines, we are focusing primarily on two parishes in the devastated places ( its more helpful to have a particular focus, than to send relief in a general way). The first, primary focus is the parish of Fr. German Patiga – Holy Family Parish, Pawing, Palo, Leyte.

The second is the home parish of one of our SMA seminarians, studying theology here in Manila – Our Lady Queen of Angels Parish, can-Avid, Eastern Samar.

Donations we get here in Manila, and donations we receive through the SMA in Ireland, through our Philippines Disaster Relief Fund (SMA members, family friends, and others who want to help) will be used in our on-going relief operation. Obviously this project will not be for just a few weeks. After the people receive food, water and medicine, there is the longer work of re-building their lives. Rehabilitation of lives and structures will last for a long time.

All week long I have been praying Psalm 34, which we read at Mass on Tuesday – “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted; those whose spirits are crushed, he will save”.

And the final verse of this Sunday’s Gospel brings consolation – “By your perseverance /endurance you will secure your lives”. 

Thanks for your support and prayers.

If you would like to support the SMA effort in the Philippines click here to make a donation. Click on the The Greatest Need option. Your full donation – no deduction for bank charges etc – will be sent to Fr Gus to purchase what is needed to help. Thank You.