Churches Help Philippines Flood Victims

Church agencies have joined have joined the Philippine government and other international aid groups in an effort to help people affected by recent flooding and a tropical storm.

Catholic Relief Services and other aid agencies met with Archbishop Antonio Ledesma to coordinate their response with the government. Representatives plan to meet every two days to report their work and update their plans, according to reports.

The church-run Veritas and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines national social action secretariat have pleaded for relief supplies, clothing and money from dioceses across the country. Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle directed parishes to collect at Christmas masses from survivors, while support pours in from around the world.

President Barack Obama has offered his condolences and assured that the U.S. is prepared to assist the country with relief efforts.

Pope Benedict XVI promised he will keep people in the Philippines in his prayers.

“I pray for the victims- many of whom are children- for the homeless and the numerous people who are missing,” he said, according to Catholic News Services.

Tropical Storm Washi hit the northern Mindanao area of the Philippines Dec. 16 and left tens of thousands homeless and over 1,000 dead. Over a half of a million people in 13 provinces were affected by the storm, according to the country’s National Disaster Risk and Reduction and Management Council.

Bengino Aquino, President of the Philippines, declared a national calamity, with thousands of people stranded in shelters. Over 40,000 people have moved to evacuation centers and 200,000 more are in need of assistance outside the centers, according to reports.

Cagayan de Oro and lligan were two of the worst hit areas. Extensive damages from the storm make it difficult to figure out the exact number of casualties.

Joe Curry of Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development agency, said that 35,000 people in Cagayan de Oro lost their homes. Many of them are living in schools and gymnasiums, which were converted to evacuation centers.

He said that 75,000 residents of the city, which lived near a river that flowed from the mountains to the ocean, were affected by the flooding.

“It looks kind of like the tsunami hitting…everything was taken off the foundations. The water was 11 feet above its banks and anything near it was wiped away,” Curry said.