In Philippines, rubble disappearing, but challenges remain

By Dennis Sadowski

TACLOBAN, Philippines — The massive piles of rubble are disappearing from the streets of this city of 240,000, but plenty of evidence of destruction remains from November’s Typhoon Haiyan in every corner of town.

Devastation from November's Typhoon Haiyan still remains in Tacloban, Philippines. (CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

Devastation from November’s Typhoon Haiyan still remains in Tacloban, Philippines. (CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

On our arrival Feb. 4 people could be seen rebuilding homes in areas smashed by the storm, using what material they could scavenge from what rubble does remain. The combined force of wind and storm surge had leveled large areas of the city, and people were using just about anything that was usable to rebuild.

Children could be seen alongside adults cutting wood to size or digging through piles of rubble looking for just the right piece of material to use. Workers moved carefully on steep rooftops piecing together materials — some new and some recycled — to render a home or business more usable.

The most devastated areas were filled with tents clustered closely together. Clothing hung on lines drying in the hot sun. Women cooked dinner. Some families operated small businesses in a tiny shack, mostly offering snacks, drinks and light food.

An afternoon downpour demonstrated people’s vulnerability to the elements. Although brief, water quickly filled the streets, muddying pathways through the camps and neighborhoods. But people never flinched, knowing that rain like this is common. It’s the typhoons and tropical storms that worry them far more.

One scene was reminiscent of what I saw a half a world away in Haiti in 2010 following that country’s massive earthquake. On one corner, a work crew was shoveling debris into a wheelbarrow, then hoisting it onto a dump truck. In these dozen workers I saw another dozen or so men in Haiti clearing the concrete rubble of a bank building in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. A dump truck was parked nearby.

Residents of Tacloban, Philippines, shoot some hoops. (CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

Residents of Tacloban, Philippines, shoot some hoops. (CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

Same work, same sounds of shovels against pavement, different workers.

Rebuilding poses a challenge in the typhoon zone, explained Elizabeth Tromans, regional technical adviser for emergency preparedness and response in East and South Asia for Catholic Relief Services. Few supplies are making their way to the city, and even fewer to rural communities, she said. What does get through is too costly for most people to afford.

Even the Catholic Church can ill afford supplies. At the city’s well known Santo Nino Church, where Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, celebrated Mass after the downpour, the floors were covered in water that had leaked into the building. Tarps cover almost the entire roof of the church and cannot hold out all of the rain. Worshippers sat in areas where water was not falling and walked carefully through slippery areas to receive Communion. For the 250 or so people at Mass, faith remained more important than the elements.

The archbishop, leading a delegation of U.S. church leaders observing the recovery efforts in typhoon zone, credited the Filipinos for their perseverance and fortitude in the face of disaster. He reiterated a common message expressed during the trip: that the church working together can help people in need overcome the difficulties posed by the storm.

What poverty is ‘the greatest treasure of all’?

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis released his first Lenten message today to help people prepare for this period of prayer, penance, sacrifice and charity.

Woman prays in front of World Youth Day cross during visit to Rocinha slum in Rio de Janeiro

A woman praying in front of the World Youth Day cross in the Rocinha slum in Rio de Janeiro July 18, 2013. (CNS/Pilar Olivares, Reuters)

Be sure to read his message, which addresses the common confusion over upholding Christ’s poverty as “the greatest treasure of all” vs. the fight against the debilitating and “disfiguring” poverty of material, spiritual and moral neglect.

Christians are called to empty themselves like Christ and be filled with God’s love and mercy, the pope said, and then share those gifts with everyone, addressing their physical, moral and spiritual hunger.

“In imitation of our master, we Christians are called to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it,” the pope said.

Girl cries as she watches workers government demolition crew dismantle shanties in Philippines

A girl cries as she watches government workers dismantle shanties in Manila, Philippines, Jan. 28, 2014. (CNS/Romeo Ranoco, Reuters)

One of the more challenging parts of the papal message was the pope’s call for a “self-denial” that is truly penitential and involves real sacrifice.

“I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt,” the pope said.

During today’s press briefing about the message, Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum (the office which handles the pope’s charitable giving), gave a few suggestions in response to a journalist’s question about ways to sacrifice during Lent.

  • “Share what we have, especially with the poor…Share our money, share our assets…Share what we have that’s superfluous and would be needed by many people who suffer from hunger and many other needs.”
  • Look around you and see whether “perhaps where I live there is a poor family nearby, what can I do?”
  • Help people in countries that are hurting because of war, earthquakes or other natural disasters.
  • There’s also a need for “inner sacrifice. We are all sinners. How can I strip away my sins? My pride? Perhaps I’m irritable at home, at work. How can I let go of these behaviors?”

– Cardinal Robert Sarah


How do you plan on responding to the pope’s message and live Lent this season?

Coincidence? Or is the pope a secret CNS fan?

VATICAN CITY — There’s been another strange coincidence where we at Catholic News Service have put out a story on a very specific topic and a couple of days later, Pope Francis picks up the same theme.

Pope Francis gestures as he speaks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during private audience at Vatican

Pope Francis speaking with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a private audience at the Vatican May 18. (CNS/Gregorio Borgia, pool via Reuters)


The first time I noticed it was after I wrote a piece on his use of “threes” in almost all of his talks.

Lo and behold, three (!!) days later the pope explained why he likes to break things down into three neat concepts (It’s a Jesuit thing, he said).

Then last Friday, our videographer, Robert Duncan, posted a video with Fr. Dwight Longenecker, who was visiting Rome and gave us a preview of his new book coming out, “The Romance of Religion.”

In the video, Fr. Longenecker talks about two strands running through the history of the church: what he calls the “priestly” with its attention to observing rules, and the prophetic.

And wouldn’t you know, Pope Francis emphasized exactly those two points two days later in his homily at Mass marking the World Day for Consecrated Life.

Consecrated men and women experience an encounter between observance and prophesy, he said.

“We don’t see them as two opposing realities. Rather, let’s let the Holy Spirit animate them both,” he said, urging religious to allow the joy of the Holy Spirit to guide both their observance of their communities’ rules and their willingness to be prophetic.

Obviously the pope is not scanning CNS for ideas, but the coincidences are uncanny!

Pope Francis gives thumbs as he leaves St. Peter's Square after celebrating Palm Sunday Mass

Thumbs up from Pope Francis as he leaves St. Peter’s Square March 24, 2013. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Witness of faith: Manila’s basilica of the Black Nazarene

People stroll in front of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo Feb. 2. Many Filipinos believe the sacred statue of Jesus Christ has miraculous powers. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

People stroll in front of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Manila, Philippines Feb. 2. Many Filipinos believe the sacred statue of Jesus Christ housed in the church has miraculous powers. (CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

MANILA, Philippines — Crowds of Filipinos thronged throughout Miranda Plaza outside of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene Sunday as they do every day.

The basilica is one of the Philippines’ most revered sites as the faithful turn to the life-size statue of the Jesus carrying a cross for inspiration and healing — both the mental and physical kind.

Colleague Tyler Orsburn and I were joined by Adrian Tams of Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan (Church in Service of the Nation), the Jesuits’ social justice arm in the Philippines, as we visited the magnificent church.

We found perhaps 2,000 people filling the basilica as the temperature outside neared 90; hundreds more spilled out of the multiple doorways that lined both sides of the nave. The sound of worshippers filled the church with song during Communion.

Those who could not make it inside the basilica, also known as Quiapo Church, watched the Mass on large screens located at several locations round the building’s perimeter.

A description of the statue from the basilica website indicates that there is no definite account of its origin, but that it is attributed to the work of an unknown Mexican artist, who painted Jesus with dark brown skin similar to his own. The name Black Nazarene arose because when the statue arrived in the Philippines on a Mexican galleon in about 1606, its color had turned black.

The church itself has burned several times throughout its history. The current church dates to the 1930s, with a major expansion in the 1980s to accommodate the growing number of pilgrims showing up at its doorsteps.

The sight of the historic church wedged into tight quarters, surrounded by merchants offering things such as candles, clothing, fruit and vegetables, dried flowers and fortunes, and the worshippers was an impressive demonstration of faith as we began our 12-day reporting trip in the Philippines.


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