"We are very grateful to our beloved Pope Francis for the prayers, the closeness and solidarity he expressed to the people affected by the earthquake in the Philippines," Fr Edwin A. Gariguez told AsiaNews.
The clergyman is the executive secretary of the National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace (NASSA) of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), a leading player in relief efforts on behalf of earthquake victims.
On 15 October, a powerful magnitude 7.2 earthquake hit the central Philippines (Central Visayas). About 186 have been killed so far but that number could top 200. Many buildings suffered serious damage, including many old churches dating back to the Spanish colonial era that are part of the country's most important architectural heritage.
The death toll from the powerful earthquake that jolted Central Visayas last week include 173 people in Bohol, 12 in Cebu and one in Siquijor, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said on Monday.
The deadly earthquake affected more than three million people in eight cities and 52 towns.
Damages are estimated at P 867.24 million (US$ 18.5 million), including 39 bridges, 18 main roads and 45,641 houses.
In Cebu, the provincial government issued a statement that rumours about a pending magnitude 8 earthquake are not true.
On its official Facebook page, provincial authorities warned residents to ignore baseless rumours that could cause panic, urging them instead to remain alert because of the continuing aftershocks. Since the main quake struck, some 2,000 tremors have been recorded so far.
Speaking to AsiaNews, NASSA executive secretary Fr Gariguez, who is also coordinator for relief operations, expressed gratitude towards Pope Francis, who after Sunday's Angelus expressed his "closeness to the people of the Philippines", and called on believers "to pray for that dear nation, which has recently undergone several disasters."
"His words of concern and solidarity," the priest said, "encourage us to work together even more in order to help those in need."
In this respect, he added, "the pope's words are of great help and inspiration."
In fact, in co-operation with Caritas Internationalis, scores of Catholic volunteers have been involved in emergency work.
In parallel, a campaign has been underway through the country's dioceses to collect aid to help residents get back to a normal life.