As I sit down to write this, the season of Advent is almost upon us. Our attention here at Catholic Relief Services is on the Philippines, where Typhoon Haiyan has affected millions of our brothers and sisters.
CRS has been working in the Philippines since 1945 when, as War Relief Services, we helped the many survivors of World War II living in this nation of many islands. Established only 2 years after our founding, the Philippines program is our oldest.
Much of our current work is on the island of Mindanao in both peacebuilding and agricultural development. But we also respond to the many natural disasters that strike all over the country. Sometimes that means earthquakes, as we saw recently on the island of Bohol. More often, it means typhoons and other powerful storms that sweep across the Pacific Ocean into the Philippines, bringing winds and rain, flooding and landslides.
We have never seen anything like Typhoon Haiyan, which cut a swath of destruction 30 miles wide—with damage far beyond—as it barreled over the Philippines. Nearly 12 million people are affected by the storm, and hundreds of thousands are left homeless.
At a time like this, it can seem difficult to see God as the generous provider of bounty that we know him to be. You can look at the Philippines and see devastation, want, need. Or you can look at the Philippines and see help, aid, compassion. Amid the debris, you can see the hand of God.
Help does not always arrive as quickly as we would like. But it does arrive as a caring world responds, as airplanes, ships and trucks make their way through crowded airports, overwhelmed ports, and damaged roads to reach those in need.
The concern that drives this assistance is the God of love at work. He is working through the busy hands and sturdy backs, engaged brains and generous spirits that we, his children, provide. Though often we might not realize it, we are conduits for his holy power.
And that is how I know that God is indeed bountiful. Because I see what you do when something like Typhoon Haiyan occurs. You don’t hesitate or wonder how you can make a difference in the face of something so powerful, so terrible. You respond. You pray. You give. You speak. You stand in solidarity with those suffering thousands of miles away. You let the people on the islands of Leyte and Samar—and many others—know that they are not alone, that you are with them, that God is with them.
This is an appropriate realization as we spend these weeks in contemplation of the approaching birth of our Savior. We come to understand that there was a time when the world waited in hope and, at times, despair, wondering what the future would bring.
Hope was rewarded beyond anyone’s imagination. God provided us with his son, who brought the most magnificent gift that the world has ever seen—redemption. It arrived after a journey that included suffering, death and resurrection, the ultimate proof of God’s generosity.
On Christmas, we celebrate the beginning of that journey, the birth that signals the wonderful fulfillment of God’s promise. We celebrate the arrival of Emmanuel, the name Matthew gives Jesus in the first chapter of his Gospel, the name that means “God with us.
There is death, and there is suffering, not only in the Philippines but in so many places around the world where people are in need. But there is also hope and redemption, delivered by God through your hands, your minds, your hearts.
By your actions, you show you understand what a privilege it is to serve the poor, to ease suffering, to fulfill the promise of Emmanuel. May your Advent season be full of wonder and joy. And, as always…
May blessings overflow,
Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo
CEO & President
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