Last December Typhoon Pablo struck the Philippines island of Mindanao with a force beyond any previous natural disasters on the island, causing over a thousand deaths and billions of dollars’ worth of damage. At the time, the people of nearby provinces and cities immediately responded to the needs of the victims, such as, finding their loved ones through search and rescue efforts by both government and social groups. Later the international community also provided assistance.
Amongst the initiatives taken, the Society of Mary made four Mission Trips to different places in the affected areas. It was a collaborative effort including various forms of contribution from all branches of the Marist Family and some other religious. Our Sisters worked hard to prepare packages to be taken to the devastated survivors.
However, Pablo left more in its wake than physical damage. The survivors are haunted by disturbing questions: Why have we been so severely lashed? Where did we go wrong? What we have done? Why us? …we are the poor: peasant/tenants, workers, fishermen, farmers, students, women and children! Is this the result of development?
The Redemptorist and Jesuit Communities initiated a Theological Forum for those working with Pablo’s victims as they struggle to come to terms with their experience. Entitled Crossing the Divides in Pablo: Striking New Keys in the Mission of Hope”, its specific purpose was to:
- theologically reflect on the ecological signs of the times (in view of the impact of climate change manifesting in calamities as the one brought about by Typhoon Pablo)
- pastorally deal with the suffering brought about by such disasters on the lives of our people, and
- missiologically look to the Springs of Hope that can sustain us as Christians responding to the challenges arising out of the impact of calamities.
Our Sisters deeply appreciated the insights this forum provided. Together with the other participants, they recognised issues such as, deforestation and illegal logging, increase of foreign ownership of the land and therefore, increase in mining industries. They then grappled with the more immediate issues of the desperate plight of many survivors and the violence surrounding their struggle for the rehabilitation money and goods due to them.
Questions for the local people remain, but there is some hope in the form of the provision by the government of large quantities of rice and the on-going efforts of religious and others to give food, to give seeds, and to provide psycho-social processing and spiritual activities.
We are all invited to unite in prayer with our sisters and brothers of Mindanao.