As I type this, a Catholic delegation from the United States is in the Philippines assessing the damage caused by Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated the Southeast Asian archipelago last November.
Among the delegation’s members are Louisville Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Dr. Carolyn Woo, executive director of Catholic Relief Services; Sister Carol Keehan, a CRS board member and president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association; Msgr. Ronny Jenkins, USCCB general secretary; Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield, USCCB associate general secretary; and Don Clemmer of the USCCB communications team.
With the holiday season coming on the heels of the disaster, it’s likely that most of us put the typhoon out of our minds once the headlines fizzled up. Three months later, this delegation has brought it to the forefront again — and is sharing information gleaned in real time.
Twitter gives instant photos and status reports. SoundCloud provides Archbishop Kurtz’s homily during Mass at the chapel of bishops’ conference in the Philippines. Facebook hosts a photo of group members in the Tokyo airport during its layover. Instagram catches a priceless moment of humor between Archbishop Kurtz and Filipino Cardinal Luis Tagle. And a blog written by Archbishop Kurtz himself gives a re-cap of each day.
Clemmer, too, is blogging — and he used his first entry to remind us why the delegation traveled halfway around the world in the first place.
Getting his information from Catholic Relief Services’ Joe Curry, who currently is based in the country, Clemmer reported that the Philippines is “the third most disaster-prone country on Earth,” and Typhoon Haiyan was the strongest storm to ever make landfall. The storm affected more than 12 million people, damaged or destroyed more than 550,000 homes, and displaced 4 million people. Approximately 6,100 people died, and 1,500 more are still missing.
Rebuilding and recovery efforts are underway, but it’s slow going. The economy is tough, too. Within the borders of the Philippines, 14 percent of the population survives on just $2/day, Clemmer reported.
This information reminds us of our responsibility as Catholics to our brothers and sisters in Christ outlined very clearly in the Church’s social doctrine.
It’s Catholic social teaching that is at the heart of this week’s In Focus (Pages 9-12), and Emily Stimpson’s clearly presented package approaches the subject in a wholistic way. Stimpson removes the political lenses and demonstrates why the Church’s social teachings cannot be interpreted selectively by one party or the other.
The outcome is a piece that reminds us all of our responsibility as Catholics to care for the least among us, be they next door or a half-a-world away.
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