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Thousands of Lives to Give: The Philippines

November 11, AD 2013 14 Comments
St. Lawrence Ruiz, First Filipino Saint, and Companion Martyrs

St. Lawrence Ruiz, First Filipino Saint, and Companion Martyrs

By now you probably have heard that a massive typhoon hit the Philippines last Friday. Named Haiyan (or Yolanda), the typhoon is reportedly the strongest ever recorded in history, with winds of 195 miles per hour and gusts up to 235 mph. Early reports coming out of the country say that as many as 10,000 people lost their lives. Countless more are reeling from the devastation in the storm’s deadly aftermath.

Although the rescue and recovery efforts are starting in earnest, the storm only compounds problems already existent in the Philippines. Just less than a month ago, the country suffered from a 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Bohol. Additionally, the Filipino government recently has been trying to quell an Islamic-separatist uprising led by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in the southern part of the country, particularly affecting Zamboanga City in Mindanao.

Although we must stand in solidarity with any peoples affected by disaster and devastation, I think Catholics in particular should acutely respond to the needs of our Filipino brethren. As a predominantly Catholic country, the gift of that nation to the treasured heritage of the Church has been immeasurable.

Discovered in the 16th century by the explorer Ferdinand Magellan, the Spanish quickly claimed the region as their own. They named it Las Islas Filipinas (“The Philippine Islands”) in honor of King Philip II. Many of the native inhabitants adopted Catholicism and the islands soon became a hub of the evangelization in Asia — and it still remains so to this day. One of the first saints from that country, St. Lorenzo Ruiz, whose feast we celebrated on September 28th, captures the forbearing, yet passionate heart of that people for the Gospel of Christ:

For example, when persecutors asked him, “If we grant you life, will you renounce your faith?,” Lorenzo responded: “That I will never do, because I am a Christian, and I shall die for God, and for him I will give many thousands of lives if I had them. And so, do with me as you please.” Although the Filipino people suffered much tumult in the past few centuries, with the nation changing hands multiple times and occupied by various conquerors, they have continued to bless the Church with rich examples of family life, many priests and missionaries, sisters and brothers, and even a few canonized saints.

Therefore, as they are in their need again now, let the Church universal respond in kind. As St. Paul tells us, “If part [of the body of Christ] suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy” (1 Corinthians 12: 26). Furthermore, he writes in the Epistle to the Galatians, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ” (6:2).

Of course, sometimes when disaster strikes, and especially when it is on such a great magnitude, helping to make a difference seems impossible. We feel so powerless, do we not? But, through our faith, we know that this is not so. Blessed Mother Teresa tells us, while working amidst the unbearable poverty and seemingly limitless human needs in the slums of Calcutta, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, feed just one.” Everyone in the Church, in our own way, can do something. What, then, can these be? I offer two practical “beginning” steps.

First, in his Sunday Angelus, Pope Francis assured the Filipino people of his closeness to them. In a particular way, he asked everyone in the crowd of St. Peter’s to take a moment to pray for our brothers and sisters. Prayer: this is the first response. For the Christian, when faced with evil, suffering, death, and calamity, the beginning response must be prayer. It is that cry to the Cross, where we look to our God who is not a distant god, but at One who desires to “suffer with us and to be with us in our sufferings.”

Prayer is the unshakeable foundation of a peace, a consolation, and a hope that the world cannot give. Indeed, the bishops of the Philippines, when faced with the impending storm, called upon all the people and priests to pray. Archbishop Jose Palma, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, reiterated this with a call today for a novena prayer and charity. For them, it was natural because “Filipinos seek God and take it as a part of life. They do not curse God; rather they ask help from God, and spiritual help from the Church.” What faith this is! How much this world can learn from a suffering people following a suffering God who still choose to pray.

Secondly, although we begin with prayer, we cannot end with prayer if it is within our power to do more. Our faith naturally must incarnate itself into concrete acts of charity. As St. James tells us, “I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works” (James 2:18). That is, our faith should be translated into real-world solidarity. It should express itself in love. Thus, Pope Francis also encouraged us to reach out to those affected with practical help. Although not everyone can be a relief-worker or join a humanitarian mission, what we can do is support organizations that do that type of work.

As one of the largest charitable and humanitarian organizations in the world, the Catholic Church does much in the area of disaster-relief. I learned earlier this weekend from the Catholic News Service that two Catholic groups are currently accepting donations: Caritas Internationalis, the Vatican-based international network of Catholic agencies, and Catholic Relief Services, a Caritas network member in the United States. CNN also has compiled a helpful list of other organizations participating in the relief efforts. Supporting them is a concrete way now to get much needed help on the ground with the first-responders.

We know that money cannot ever replace the lives lost. It cannot make whole the anguish and suffering borne by the Filipino people. But it can help them in small ways to get their lives back together, to have a filling meal, a dry change of clothes, or to simply find warm shelter for the night. Although the saints never forgot, nor can we, that love and closeness are what people most yearn for, these can be some of the many ways that we show our love. In whatever way you are called to give of yourself, let us imitate St. Lorenzo and his companions. And although we, like him, may wish it so, we do not have thousands of lives to give to Christ; but we do have one and that is enough.

About the Author:

Rachana Chhin is a 25-year-old Catholic convert (via Buddhism and Evangelical Christianity) from Houston, Texas. He received his Bachelors degree from Baylor University where he studied International Affairs and the Great Books. He is now pursuing a Juris Doctorate and Masters in Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minnesota. In his down time, he enjoys reading, listening to classical and folk music, and playing strategy games on his computer.

  • MarytheDefender

    As a Filipino, thank you for writing about this! God Bless!

    • RachanaC

      You’re very welcome, Mary! In the aftermath of the storm, I was struggling with feelings of powerlessness and struggled to make sense of the devastation and carnage. The reports still coming out of some of the islands are almost unbelievable.

      I wanted to do something. Indeed, I knew I had to do something. We all do! So I give thanks to the Lord for inspiring and using me in whatever way He wills to bring attention to our suffering brothers and sisters. We’re all in this together. God bless you!

  • Michael King

    Dear Sir,

    My country has been tested enough and now my countrymen needs a helping hand in order to rise up again and face the reality of life.

    I will not end the day without saying a prayer for you and all others who serve as our voices in the international community, that God may bless you always as well as your family.

    Thank you.

    Michael King

    • RachanaC

      Dear Michael,

      Thank you very much for your prayers. We, Catholics around the world, stand in solidarity with you our brothers and sisters in the Philippines. Although we do not know each other, what we share in our faith unites us on a deeper level than we can ever imagine.

      Your people will continue to be in my prayers, and in the prayers of my own countrymen. In the United States, our dioceses will soon begin organizing collections to send to your country. And we have already been praying for you and all our beloved dead in our own Masses here.

      Hang in there and keep the faith! As our Holy Father said last month:

      Mabúhay ang Pilipínas! Mabúhay ang Asia! Pagpaláin kayó ng Dios!
      (“Long live the Philippines! Long live Asia! God bless you!”)

  • theCatholicgal

    YES!!!! I have totally been convicted that we need to GIVE. I’ve started a FB event for this, hoping to raise $110,813. Join if you can!

    • RachanaC

      Thank you for your work at getting that together, Molly! If this helps even in a little way to support our brothers and sisters there, then it will be worth it. Do you happen to have a link for that event so we can get the word out?

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  • patrick hamilcar

    “As a predominantly Catholic country, the gift of that nation to the treasured heritage of the Church has been immeasurable.” That phrase is a bit much. The same could be said of any historically Catholic country. Do the Philippines export clergy to the world or provide treasures of art and culture? No. They are good people but the world is full of good people. Help them yes. Give them more credit than they deserve? No.

    • RachanaC

      Patrick, thank you for commenting! I suppose we differ on the metrics to use when quantifying all of this. Can the gift of a people be measured in terms of clergy numbers? Or art and culture? Certainly I will grant to you that those factors may be part, but I’m not sure that is the right focus or question at this point.

      Although I’m certain the Filipino people have provided gifts and contributions in those too, I will admit my ignorance when it comes to many of these areas. What immediately strikes me about the Philippines, and what I believe makes that nation unique and indispensable comes up dramatically in two ways:

      The first, which I mentioned in my piece, is that they are playing a crucial role in the Evangelization of Asia. Aside from the presence of the faith in Australia, New Zealand, perhaps a few other island-nations in the Pacific, S. Korea, and the persecuted Church in China, the gravity of Christianity in that region seems to me to be that nation. It has been the beating heart of missions from the beginning of the Christianization of that continent.

      Additionally, we must not forget of the large Filipino diaspora community around the world. This is particularly true here in the United States, other parts of Southeast Asia, and many migrant workers in the Middle East. I think this presence is not negligible and they often bring with them their families, priests, and set up churches. This undoubtedly seems to me to be a “hidden” mission from the people.

      Maybe we shall see some fruits only in eternity, but I’m certain there are many more. Thank you again! God bless you.


        Dear Sir,
        There are around 3000 priests and religious sisters and brothers serving in the different countries of the world..

    • MarytheDefender

      We do export clergy to the world! Many of our priests are missionaries! Not to mention all the millions of overseas Filipino workers whose prayerful lives are a great example to people in the West and Middle East. And we do have treasures of art and culture! Come to the Philippines and see our churches, I hope you’ll see the beauty of our country and people. Or just talk to one in your parish or diocese. There are so many Filipinos that work abroad to provide for their families, its likely there are few in your diocese at least. Our religious music composers have composed beautiful hymns and songs sung not only here but all over the world!

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