“I can confirm that CRS, as the overseas international aid, relief, and development arm of this conference – representing us – is strong and representing us well in the Philippines and around the world,” Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City said June 11 in New Orleans.
Archbishop Coakley's report to the U.S. bishops during their annual spring meeting focused on Catholic Relief Services response to last year's Typhoon Haiyan. The storm pummeled the Philippines Nov. 8, 2013, killing more than 6,000 and displacing more than 4 million.
He was introduced by conference president, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, who recounted their visit along with CRS staff to the Philippines to meet with local leaders shortly after the storm struck.
Archbishop Kurtz explained the joint trip was both an act of solidarity with the Filipino people, and was to “bring to the public the extraordinary recovery work that's been taking place, thanks in many ways to the wonderful generosity of people throughout the U.S., and to witness to the effective cooperation between our conference and CRS.”
He noted that typhoon recovery in the Philippines has been “assisted greatly by the tremendous generosity of the faithful,” noting that the diocese of the U.S. have given $21 million to the Typhoon Haiyan special collection.
Archbishop Coakley, who was appointed CRS chairman last November, said he is “pleased to report that CRS emergency responders were on the ground and working with the local Church – bishops, Caritas in the Philippines, religious communities – immediately after the super typhoon struck,” noting that the agency already had staff in the Philippines before the storm's landfall.
“The first delegation from CRS headquarters and our board left the USA even before our November meeting finished, and arrived within a week of the disaster. The response was immediate.”
He affirmed the CRS team on the ground in the Philippines, saying they are “living and working, as the Holy Father and our Lord would want, with the poor, in solidarity with those on the margins, peripheries.”
Archbishop Coakley called CRS' work “quite impressive,” noting that its Haiyan relief operations have targeted 60,000 households with an integrated package of emergency shelter, water, sanitation, hygiene, and household items; and that they aim to serve 100,000 households throughout a three year recovery plan, “focused on restoring communities, as well as restoring the capacity of local institutions.”
During their visit to the Philippines, he said, “we witnessed the efforts of our teams on the ground working to provide shelter, to restore water, to provide opportunities for income generation, where livelihoods have been lost; and to do this with extraordinary compassion, with extraordinary grace, and in order to give witness to the Gospel, the inspiration for all our actions.”
“We witnessed the extraordinary resilience and beautiful faith of the Filipino people … for me it was a first visit to the Philippines, and it was an extraordinary experience of a depth and quality of faith unlike any I've ever witnessed.”
He was followed by CRS' chief operating officer, Sean Callahan, who drew attention to the agency's mission of communion “in a world seemingly becoming more and more divided,” saying “we are called to be an instrument of communion and harmony, uniting the Church in this country and throughout the world with people of different communities and traditions, and calling for communion with our brothers and sisters, particularly those most in need.”
“When you think of CRS,” he told the bishops, “I hope you don't think of a separate Catholic organization; rather, I hope you think how we, all of us, are saving, protecting, and transforming 100 million lives annually.”
The bishops were then able to ask questions of Callahan and Archbishop Coakley, with Bishop Robert Baker of Birmingham asking for clarification on the use and distribution of the Typhoon Haiyan Special Collection: half of it had been designated for the Filipino bishops' conference for recovery and the rebuilding of ecclesial infrastructure, and half was given to CRS for its humanitarian relief efforts.
Archbishop Coakley explained that “in a culture that is so very Catholic, the Church is the place people turn to for aid, for support, and to gather, and we recognized that because the Church plays such an important part in Filipino life, that it was very important that we dedicate some of the collection to rebuilding the churches.”
Thus, half of the collection was given to rebuilding churches “so that the life of the Church could go on there locally, and the other 50 percent went to CRS to channel our efforts there in providing… redevelopment programs, rebuilding the nation, those parts of the nation that suffered so terribly.”
Catholic Relief Services' chairman has affirmed the international aid agency's strength and effective representation of the bishops' conference, especially lauding its aid to the Philippines.
US Bishops, Catholic Relief Services, Typhoon Haiyan