By Tom Tracy
Catholic News Service
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CNS) — Between errands and attending parent-teacher meetings with her children, Charito Darr was fielding phone calls from nervous Filipino-Americans — often speaking in regional Filipino dialects — seeking news of loved ones in their homeland following Super Typhoon Haiyan.
A native of the Philippines, Darr was active for years in a Filipinas’ civic association in Minneapolis, before moving to Chicago, where she now volunteers with the Rizal Heritage Center.
It is a Filipino cultural association that elderly Filipinos especially are calling as worries mount over missing relatives and friends out of reach in hard-hit provinces of that Pacific nation.
About 600,000 people have been made homeless or displaced and thousands are presumed killed by Haiyan, which struck the Philippines and the surrounding region Nov. 8 and left many far-flung villages and coastal towns without access to supplies, power, transportation or communications.
In some of the worst-hit cities, looting and chaos has compounded sluggish relief efforts.
"They are looking for people who can speak the language so I offered my help to speak with elderly people who haven’t heard yet from relatives," said Darr, who added she was last in the Philippines in 2001 and that her own relatives there were far enough south of the storm to escape harm.
But many of the callers in Chicago told her they can’t get in touch with family by phone.
"We pray with them, we wait with them, we feel what they are feeling: somewhat helpless and there is nothing we can do but wait right now and hope we can get some news," Darr told Catholic News Service.
According to federal data, an estimated 3 million Filipinos reside legally in the United States, while estimates suggest another million may be in the U.S. without documents. Overall, Filipinos now comprise one of the largest segments of Asian-Americans — making them a significant presence in many Catholic parishes throughout the U.S. especially on the West Coast and in the Northeast.
In the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y., Father Patrick Longalong, coordinator of the Filipino Apostolate there, was busy planning a rosary and post-typhoon healing Mass for Filipinos Nov. 17, with the Filipino Apostolate of St. Michael’s Parish in Flushing, N.Y.
The priest emphasized that the event is not a fundraiser but an opportunity to pray as a community for those who have been affected by the typhoon, both there and in Asia.
The New York-area Filipino community, which Father Longalong described as the East Coast’s largest concentration of Filipinos apart from Jersey City, N.J., is also coming together to support those who might not be able to travel to the Philippines nor attend religious services there for their loved ones due to immigration issues.
Many of the area’s "kababayans," as Filipinos call their fellow countrymen, have already received the good news that family members are alive while others received heartbreaking news of the death of their loved ones, the priest said.
The priest said his mother’s side of the family is from the hard-hit town of Tanauan, Leyte Province, "two towns away from the worst hit areas. And we have an aunt and some cousins there and are still trying to locate them," the priest said.
San Francisco-area surgeon and Cebu City native Dr. Edward Gamboa, and his pediatrician-wife were traveling in Europe when Typhoon Haiyan struck, leaving them to scramble through the Internet and social media for news of relatives and ways to send direct help.
The couple planned to travel to the Philippines next March as part of a team of Filipino-American surgeons and medics who organize annual medical mission trips to the Philippines. They also are in the process of building church medical mission center there with the Kingston, Jamaica-based Missionaries of the Poor religious community.
"My wife talked to her brother Mike in Cebu during the storm. He was elated that the storm whipped through Cebu in only two hours with very little if any damage," Gamboa told CNS. "We have classmates from medical school practicing in Leyte. We do not know if they survived since communication infrastructure was destroyed."
Maryknoll Sister Rosalie Lacourte, a native of the Philippines who served for 30 years as a missionary in Tanzania before working in Maryknoll’s development offices in New York, said her own extended family members appear to have survived but one relative in Tacloban reported almost total material loss before contact with that person went silent.
"One of my cousins is there and has only had one communication with my family; after that it has been complete blackout and nothing more. They lost everything and when the hurricane hit their house the windows blew out and flooded their little plantation of pineapples and destroyed a fish farm," Sister Lacourte said. "I called this morning and they said the means of communications was very limited."
Filipinos, the nun said, are famously resilient and will bounce back eventually even though they are suffering tremendously at the moment. "When disasters strike they go to the church, and keep a strong inner-determination that God will not abandon them; the church will help them through," said Sister Lacourte.
In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the regional Filipino Apostolate coordinator for the Miami Archdiocese, Janet Macasero, convened an emergency meeting Nov. 12 of her core team members and is using social media to build a network of information sharing about missing family members or others who haven’t been heard from recently.
"We live each day knowing another friend of ours has been found, and one here with an immediate family was just found today," said Macasero, who works for Department of Children and Families for the state of Florida.
"Some here actually have the fear of knowing what happened and we are doing the search online for some people who don’t want to searches themselves," she said.
"Facebook is one of the means of connecting with others. Technology is something we have to be thankful for as we are listening to streaming radio stations and (satellite) TV stations in our country," Macasero said.
In the San Diego Diocese, Father Chris Kintanar, pastor of Queen of Angels Parish in Alpine, Calif., said his family in Cebu City are fine but that he was awaiting word on other relatives further south.
He recalled his own terrifying experience with a typhoon in 1987 while a seminarian in the Philippines.
"There is no way to communicate. I have been reading all the articles coming out and they are saying there are some places impossible to reach other than helicopter and air and that a lot of villages are just silent," the priest said. "And that concerns a lot of people."
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