Local Catholics respond to crisis in Philippines in wake of typhoon

A woman holds a rosary as she waits to board a military evacuation flight from the typhoon-battered city of Tacloban, Philippines, Nov. 13. Hundreds of thousands of people in Leyte province had been displaced by Typhoon Haiyan, one of the worst storms to hit land. (CNS photo/Edgar Su, Reuters)
A woman holds a rosary as she waits to board a military evacuation flight from the typhoon-battered city of Tacloban, Philippines, Nov. 13. Hundreds of thousands of people in Leyte province had been displaced by Typhoon Haiyan, one of the worst storms to hit land. (CNS photo/Edgar Su, Reuters)

How to help typhoon victims

  • Donate online: CRS.org
  • Donate by phone: Call 1-877-435-7277 from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Eastern Time.
  • Mail your check or money order to:
    Diocese of Phoenix
    400 E. Monroe St.
    Phoenix, AZ 85004
    Memo portion of the check: Church in the Philippines

Just days after 200-mile-an-hour winds and the enormous storm surge of Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines, Catholics in Arizona reached out to offer prayerful and financial support. The cataclysmic storm killed 10,000 people and left thousands more homeless and without food and water.

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted urged Catholics to give generously to the Charitable Aid/Outreach for the Catholic Church in the Philippines collection, set to take place in parishes the weekend of Nov. 16-17. Proceeds will support humanitarian needs and the rebuilding of local Church infrastructure.

In addition, Bishop Olmsted asked the faithful to participate in a novena Nov. 17-25 for the victims and their families.

Local priest, family members missing

Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares will preside at a Mass Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Avondale to pray for victims and survivors. Kathleen Horne, wedding coordinator at the parish, said the West Valley church has many members from the Philippines who have been streaming into the parish office asking how they can help people back home.

They’re also asking about parochial vicar, Fr. John Asprec, a native of the Philippines who had gone home for a visit in the week prior to the typhoon.

“We have not heard from him,” Horne said. “He was in the area north of where the storm hit, so the hope is that the [lack of communication] is because of the power outage.”

Arizona is home to many immigrants from the Philippines, including the Sydiongco family, parishioners at St. Anne in Gilbert. The family owns Jeepney Bistro, a Filipino restaurant in Chandler.

Justin Sydiongco, manager, said his father, Joselito, was in the Philippines when the typhoon landed. “I got a text from him saying ‘It’s starting now,’ but then I didn’t hear from him for a few days,” Justin said. “I was pretty worried.”

Joselito was visiting his mother on Tacloban and saw a report on a cable news network that there was going to be a powerful storm surge. Up until then, the family had planned to remain in the home, located on the shore. Local residents are accustomed to frequent storms — but what many didn’t realize was that this was going to be a brutal one.

“He decided to get a hotel and evacuate all my family,” Justin said, adding that other family members stayed with relatives. The family has since lost contact with an aunt’s parents.

“My dad and a few of his friends went to go try to find them at the house,” Justin said. “They tried to get through but there was too much debris. They’re still missing.”

Helping survivors

Local Filipino restaurants such as Jeepney Bistro and Manila Sunrise in Mesa are collecting clothing and non-perishable items for storm victims. Many Filipinos expressed concern that aid might be diverted to the black market or not reach the intended recipients.

Kathy Luger, director of Catholic Relief Services for the Phoenix Diocese, is hoping local Catholics will support the efforts of CRS which has been working in the Philippines for over 50 years. “They are not just sending over supplies and money,” Luger said. “They are actually bringing supplies there. There are a number of folks on the ground and they have their own staff and local partners.”

Super Typhoon Haiyan had six different landfalls in four different regions of the Philippines, an impoverished country consisting of thousands of islands. The storm affected many rural areas where about 30-40 percent of the population earns just $2-3 a day.

“There were four to five islands that [the typhoon] swept right across,” Luger said. “They estimate that over 500,000 homes are uninhabitable and un-repairable and up to 7 million people are affected in some way. “

Mary Lou Gonzalez of St. Clare of Assisi Parish in Surprise said that many of those who died were poor.

“They don’t have the luxury of cable TV and didn’t know there were going to be 20 to 30 foot waves pounding,” Gonzalez said. “But the Filipino people are very religious and have a great devotion to the Blessed Mother.” Gonzalez hopes that people draw closer to God in the midst of the tragedy.

Jo-An Leith, who emigrated from the Philippines last February and works at Manila Sunrise, said her family survived but is still suffering the effects of the earthquake that preceded the typhoon. “They will be without electricity for six months,” she said. One of her customers, a woman from Leyta, lost her entire family. “She can’t really talk about it — she is just so sad,” Leith said.

Linda McKinley, a diner at Manila Sunrise, said she was told by her sister-in-law back home that many elderly people and children were evacuated to a school building in Tacloban prior to the storm.

“Unfortunately, that was where the wave hit and the water just came in and drowned them all,” McKinley said. “The people they were trying to protect were all lost. They thought they would be safe but they were not.”

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