As the worldwide community this week geared up to offer aid and support to the Philippines in the wake of super-typhoon Haiyan, Irish missionaries on the ground have led immediate efforts in helping those most in need and in communicating the scale of the disaster to the wider world.
From the city of Cebu, Sr Ann Healy, a member of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary order, and a native of Fethard in Co. Tipperary, spoke with The Irish Catholic and described scenes of chaos as people sought food and shelter after the disaster.
“Many, many people are still trying to get to safety,” she reported. “Food is getting in but is in short supply.”
Operating within a community of just six nuns, Sr Ann said the sisters were doing everything possible to provide for the overwhelming numbers approaching their convent.
“We are working to feed and clothe them,” she said, adding her gratitude to Trócaire which is now working locally to bring in much-needed emergency supplies.
“There is still so much needed,” Sr Ann said, adding, “You can only cry when you see the faces of the children.”
In the capital Manila, Columban Fr Patrick O’Donoghue, described the situation in the worst-hit city, Tacloban, as devastating.
The city has been all but isolated since 315km per hour winds devastated the city, leaving the local Redemptorist church and community virtually the only habitable buildings.
“We had people on the ground last Friday and Saturday keeping us updated, but then communication was lost,” Fr O’Donoghue explained.
“The big issue is getting the aid in. Roads are blocked. It is raining again and another, lesser, typhoon has gone through, bringing lots of rain. People are praying for respite,” he said.
Fr O’Donoghue said local Redemptorist missionaries are working to help some 2,000 people who have sought shelter with the community, but that numbers are steadily increasing.
To members of the Filipino community in Ireland who are concerned about loved ones, Fr O’Donoghue said “don’t lose hope.
“Communications are down but people are working to get messages out. People have walked for miles and have found their families alive. Don’t lose hope,” he said.