San Francisco, Calif., Jul 14, 2012 (CNA) - Catholic Relief Services needs help funding temporary shelters for 1,500 Filipino families who lost their homes in Tropical Storm Washi, which struck Mindanao last Dec. 16-17, CRS’ Philippines country representative Joe Curry told Catholic San Francisco.
He said nearly 3,000 people displaced by the storm are still living in camps and in public buildings.
CRS has played a major part in aid relief to storm victims and is the only aid organization providing temporary shelters, said Curry, who was in the Bay Area June 18.
Catholics in the Archdiocese of San Francisco have been among the most generous contributors to the typhoon relief effort, he said. In the initial response, donations from the archdiocese were $51,000 out of $143,000 from the West Coast and $250,000 in total U.S. contributions.
Mindanao is not typically in the path of Pacific storms and was largely unprepared when Washi – known locally as Typhoon Sendong – struck in the middle of the night with 18 inches of rain. The storm killed at least 1,250 people and initially displaced 80,000 – 8,000 permanently.
The cities of Cagayan de Oro and nearby Iligan were decimated, with neighborhoods swept away in a few hours, CRS said. Flooding destroyed 13,585 homes and partially damaged another 37,559.
“With a disaster this size it can take a long time to move people into permanent houses – up to two years – but what do people do from now up until the time they have a permanent house?’ Curry asked.
“We’re trying to bridge the gap with a transitional shelter, a low-cost housing unit.”
CRS has built 850 units so far at a cost of $400 each and plans another 1,000.
A third of children undernourished
CRS’ ongoing work in the Philippines focuses on Mindanao, the Philippines’ second largest island. In an economy based on five-acre farms, those who do not own try to earn $3 or $4 a day as migrant laborers.
The average grower earns $450 a year.
“When you add up the cost of food, school fees and medical expenses, it’s a life of poverty and it’s a matter of getting by,” said Curry, who has been CRS’ country representative for two-and-a-half years.
A third of Mindanao children have stunted growth because they are undernourished.
Farmers’ income suffers from lack of access to credit and to markets. CRS is helping farmers organize to reach markets directly rather than through traders. The agency also is training growers to boost productivity on coffee, cocoa and rice crops.
Civil unrest is another threat in Mindanao, and an outbreak of violence can cost growers valuable time. CRS is working on peace building efforts aimed at encouraging local governments to distribute resources more equitably.
“We work a lot with the church, through diocesan priests, and we also work a lot with local nonprofits,” Curry said.
“Part of the problem in Mindanao is that local governments are monopolized by people involved in the conflict and their interest in being transparent and sharing resources is not the same as those in the community. What we’re trying to do is bridge between our partners and these local governments and try to improve the quality of governance and make it more transparent.”
Posted with permission from Catholic San Francisco. The official newspaper of the Archdiocese of San Francisco.
Damascus, Syria, Jul 14, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Franciscans in Syria are calling upon foreign powers to stop sending arms to the country after reports that over 200 civilians have been massacred in the village of Tremseh, potentially the bloodiest single incident of the Syrian conflict so far.
“It is a tragedy, the news is confusing, truth is the first victim,” Franciscan Father Romualdo Fernandez, Director of the Ecumenical Centre of Tabbaleh, said on July 13 in Damascus.
“If foreign powers continue to arm and finance the warring parties, the war will continue and victims will increase. This is not the way of peace: the road to peace is through dialogue,” he told the Vatican’s Fides news agency.
The armed revolt against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011 and has since claimed over 10,000 lives, according to the latest U.N. estimates.
Reports as to what happened in the village of Tremseh are conflicting. United Nations observers have confirmed that the village in the western Hama province was subject to heavy fighting, including helicopters, tanks and heavy artillery on Thursday, July 12.
Opposition activists claim that over 200 civilians were killed when the Syrian army bombarded the village followed by an attack from pro-government militiamen. The Syrian regime claims the death toll is nearer to 50 and blames “armed terrorist groups” rather than government troops for the deaths.
The village of Tremseh is predominantly Sunni Muslim but is surrounded by numerous Alawite villages, the religious sect loyal to their co-religionist President Assad.
“This is in violation of the government’s undertaking to cease the use of heavy weapons in population centers,” said U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan in a July 13 statement.
“I condemn these atrocities in the strongest possible terms. It is yet another reminder of the nightmare and the horrors Syrian civilians are being subjected to.”
Annan will now travel to Moscow for a July 16 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Earlier this week the Kremlin confirmed it would continue to honor existing arms contracts with the Syrian regime, which means a ship loaded with attack helicopters will make its way to Syria.
Fr. Fernandez believes that the “high road out of this crisis” lies in talks between all sides, since “Syria needs dialogue not weapons.”
“We ask everyone to agree to sit around a table and start a confrontation, which can prevent violence, deaths, killings and massacres, which for too long have been steeping our country in blood,” he said.
But regardless of what happens in the coming months, Fr. Fernandez stated that the Franciscans “will stay in Syria, at the service of the Gospel” to help “the population who is suffering, Christians and Muslims.”
“We were there yesterday, today and we will be there tomorrow, in peacetime and in wartime, in dark times and bright times. In the certainty that the Lord wants us here and he will take care of us.”
Phoenix, Ariz., Jul 14, 2012 (CNA) - Author Dawn Marie Roeder’s two-year-old son died under tragic circumstances, but she credits her Catholic faith for helping her survive, grieve and forgive.
She now wants others to know that God’s heart is “so big ... beyond our understanding.”
“I just really hope to touch individuals who may be on the brink of losing hope or faith, to know they’re not alone. God loves them,” Roeder told CNA July 12.
“I wouldn’t have been able to survive without faith,” she said. “It’s critical, and it’s a cornerstone of my healing.”
Roeder’s 2011 book “It Doesn’t End Here,” published by Lanciano Media, tells her story.
In the year 2000, an adverse reaction to a prescription drug caused Roeder to crash her car, killing her son and leaving her unconscious.
She then took part in a five-year legal action against the pharmaceutical company that made the drug, saying it did not give sufficient warning about the possible dangers of the drug. The action put Roeder under intense scrutiny from the company’s lawyers and thrust her into the public eye.
Roeder, who now lives in Phoenix, said she wrote the book because she learned that Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary “are with us even in our most difficult and trying times.”
“I never felt abandoned by them,” she said. “If anything, I turned to them. I ran to them.
“He who suffered on the cross knows more than anything what it is to suffer. Our Heavenly Father, of course, through the loss of his son, knows what it is to lose the most precious thing in his life.”
She said the role of her faith in the aftermath of her son’s death has been “enormous.”
“We’re vulnerable at that time when we suffer loss. We need to make great choices, especially in our physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual part of our being, to be balanced.”
“Faith helped me as a foundation of being able to keep those other aspects in balance and keep me strong,” she said.
Roeder also learned the importance of forgiveness, saying it is a gift from God.
“He gave it to us from the cross. What are we to hold against anyone or any institution if we ourselves are sinners? We’ve been given the greatest gift on the cross. And we are to share that, as his children.”
While forgiveness doesn’t necessarily mean trusting a particular person or situation again, she said, “we have to forgive with our hearts, with our whole being.”
Roeder’s book tells her experience across several chapters divided by reflections on the Seven Sorrows of Mary. She said she did this to honor the Virgin Mary as her “role model” who helped her grieve.
She hopes the book’s sections on the Seven Sorrows will highlight the connection between “the suffering Our Lady had” and “the suffering of our everyday life.”
She also had advice for friends and family members of those who are grieving.
“Being with them in their presence is the greatest gift that you can give to someone,” she said. Having a cup of coffee or taking a walk with those who are grieving can help them through their grief.
Friends and family should tell the bereaved that they will see their loved ones again, she said.
“They live here, in our hearts,” she said. “Our eternal existence doesn’t end,” she added, repeating her book’s title “It Doesn’t End Here.”