Trip to Philippines is a ‘mission of Mercy’

By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor

Children wait in the rain for free meals during Christmas celebrations in the province of Leyte, Philippines, Dec. 24. In the mostly Catholic central Philippines, people were scraping together whatever they could to mark the Christmas feast nearly seven weeks after Typhoon Haiyan battered the islands. (CNS photo/Romeo Ranoco, Reuters)

Children wait in the rain for free meals during Christmas celebrations in the province of Leyte, Philippines, Dec. 24. In the mostly Catholic central Philippines, people were scraping together whatever they could to mark the Christmas feast nearly seven weeks after Typhoon Haiyan battered the islands. (CNS photo/Romeo Ranoco, Reuters)

WASHINGTON — Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz said his Feb. 2-7 visit to the Philippines will be a “mission of mercy,” an opportunity to tell people affected by the devastating Typhoon Haiyan that the Catholic Church in the United States will continue to help them recover — both physically and spiritually.

As president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the archbishop will travel to the Philippines with a delegation of church leaders late this week. The trip is sponsored by Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the international relief and humanitarian agency of the U.S. bishops, that mounted an emergency response within hours of the Nov. 8 typhoon.

“There have been 4 million people displaced and our Catholic Relief Services have already done so much,” he said during a phone interview Tuesday. “I hope to be able to speak with many of the people who have been victims of this terrible typhoon. Most of the time we’ll be in the area that was directly hit by the typhoon because we want to be where the need is and where the work of CRS is being done.”

In an article published by Catholic News Service on Tuesday, Jan. 28, the archbishop said the typhoon’s devastation in some parts of the Phillipines is mind-numbing and overwhelming.

“That’s why on the eve of the Super Bowl, I’m packing sneakers to join a delegation with

Catholic Relief Services to meet with Filipino church leaders and people from Samar and Leyte, the two Philippine islands in the eye of the storm,” he wrote. “I’ll visit Palo, just south of the city of Tacloban, and I’ll walk through rubble to let people know that the Catholic Church in the United States cares and will help.

“I and others are visiting personally so that we can wrap our hearts and minds around the situation,” he said. “This firsthand look will enable us to adequately convey to fellow Catholics the spiritual, physical and emotional extent of the damage.”

The delegation will visit the Tacloban area, which suffered extensive damage in Typhoon Haiyan. In Tacloban and other communities, the delegation will meet with church officials, visit damaged churches, meet with survivors of the typhoon and view firsthand the emergency response programs run by CRS.

In his article, the archbishop noted that more than 4 million people were displaced by the typhoon, a population similar to Kentucky’s.

“More than 1.1 million homes have been damaged, more than half of them totally destroyed,” he wrote. “The death toll is more than 6,200 — the population of a small town.”

On Nov. 11, following the typhoon, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, then-president of USCCB, wrote to U.S. bishops, urging them to take up special collections for the Philippines. Those collections have raised $7.2 million for humanitarian relief and church rebuilding and $2.9 million for humanitarian relief.

To date, CRS has received more than $50 million in donations, including $27 million from bishops and dioceses.

Archbishop Kurtz said this trip will serve as an opportunity to “acknowledge the generosity of the people throughout the United States who have made this aid possible.”

“By reporting back, I hope to awaken in the hearts of the people of the United States the desire to continue to reach out and help others,” he said. “This is really the message of Pope Francis — faith alive in action.”

In his article, he also said, “As people at home participate in our sports tradition and root for the Seattle Seahawks or the Denver Broncos (on Super Bowl Sunday), I’ll check the score from an ocean away and immerse myself in another U.S. tradition: showing support for people in desperate need.”

The archbishop and other delegates plan to meet with leaders of the church in the Philippines, including Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila and Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan and president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.

Other members of the delegation will include Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the CRS board, Carolyn Woo, president of CRS, Sister Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, Msgr. Ronny Jenkins, general secretary of the USCCB, and Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield, associate general secretary of USCCB.

Archbishop Kurtz added that the delegation intends not only to acknowledge the humanitarian recovery work, but also to offer spiritual support. He noted that the Philippines has the third largest Catholic population in the world, with 80 percent of the population identifying with the Catholic Church.

“We’re walking as people of faith and that’s one of the things that binds people together, even in these desperate situations,” he said. “That’s as meaningful as the physical help.”

More information on the CRS response to Typhoon Haiyan, including how to donate, is available online: https://crs.org/typhoon-haiyan.

Archbishop Kurtz and the USCCB will post updates from the Philippines online on Archbishop Kurtz’s blog — www.archlou.org/archbishopkurtzblog; the USCCB’s blog — usccbmedia.blogspot.com; Instagram — instagram.com/usccb; Facebook and Twitter.

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