I can’t fathom the severity of the devastation in the predominantly central region of the Philippines as I watch the news coverage from my comfortable, safe, middle-class home in Canada. I can’t imagine how the survivors are coping. What is going through their minds, their bodies, their souls? Every once in a while, from the news clips, I’ll hear a phrase or a sentence in Tagalog that I’ll barely understand but I can guess what they’re saying. Just looking at the faces and into the eyes of the people tell the whole story.
I was a very little girl, too young to be in school, when my family emigrated to Canada from the Philippines in the mid-1960s. We arrived a few years before the first wave of Filipino immigration in the 1970s. Growing up in a neighbourhood where no one looked like us or spoke like us, I quickly assimilated into Canadian culture. We had very little contact with the folks back home so I grew up knowing very little about my extended Filipino family or my Filipino roots.
As more Filipinos arrived in Canada, they formed different groups and associations. One such association to which my family belonged was a Rosary prayer group. It was a tradition imported from the home country. Starting from modest beginnings in the early seventies, it blossomed into a large, active group. A statue of Our Lady was moved from home to home, at first every month and then every other week as membership grew. Devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary were strengthened in those groups as families met, prayed, and socialized.
I’m not even sure if I have distant relatives affected by Typhoon Haiyan and I have no one I can ask. But still, as I read and watch and pray, I feel a kinship with those who share my ethnicity.
We all have an indirect kinship with the people of that devastated region. Filipino ex-pats are well-established worldwide. Look at the staff at your local hospital. Nurses, technicians, doctors, administrators, support staff: many of them are Filipino. They’re running your parish ministries, teaching your kids, nannying your children, caring for your elderly parents. In fact, they’re in every profession and in every neighbourhood. Your neighbour or colleague may be worried about a family member or friend who lives in Leyte Province or the surrounding area that was ravaged by the storm.
Immigration and world travel have made the world a very small place and what happens in one corner of our planet affects us all. For the people directly affected, their reaction is one of grief, shock, anger, despair, survival. For the rest of us, our reaction ought to be one of concern and willingness to help in any way we can.
I read a blog that proposed the possibility that God is punishing the Philippines. If that’s the case, then God should have sent a killer typhoon to punish the rest of us as well. The people of the Philippines are no better or worse than the rest of us. It’s not our place to attribute God’s wrath to this tragedy. That’s a judgement that none of us can make. Still, He figures prominently into this catastrophe. For whatever reason, He allowed events to unfold as they did. What we have to do is look at what happened through the eyes of faith. We have to trust that all things will work together for good and we have to answer our Filipino neighbours’ plaintive cries for help.
I am embarrassed to admit that I don’t know much about the culture from whence I came, but I do know this: the Filipino people are survivors. They possess a generous spirit and a charitable heart. Predominantly Christian and most notably Catholic, faith and trust in a merciful Father is imprinted into their souls. They will recover in time but they will need a great deal of help. All kinds of help.
That’s where the rest of us who are either directly or indirectly connected to our Filipino brothers and sisters can make a difference. We have so much. Most Filipinos living in the central region of the country have lost everything. Your colleague at work may have family in need of aid. So might a fellow parishioner, the nurse who gives you your flu shot, the caregiver who looks after your elderly neighbour, the family next door, the person at the bus stop. We are all connected in the family of God and we have a loving responsibility to help each other.
The people of Leyte Province and the central region of the Philippines are in desperate need of spiritual and corporal help. Dig deep. Give your time in prayer and give from your wealth.
Here’s a message from Chalice Canada regarding donations to the Philippines: All of our children & families are safe. We are fortunate that none of our sponsor sites have been impacted directly, although we anticipate a shortage of food, medicine, and shelter throughout the Philippines in the coming days and weeks. Chalice is accepting donations that will be matched from the Canadian government. We have the link on the front page of our website. We will also be setting up a long term Community Project for the rebuilding of homes, as we did very successfully in Haiti. We will be sending out more detailed information to all of our supporters & our International Manager for this area will be flying into the Philippines on Tuesday.
Photo source: photobucket.com.