About cafodliverpool

CAFOD Coordinator for the Archdiocese of Liverpool

The Church taking action and Christian life in the Philippines

Today’s my first day back in the CAFOD Liverpool Volunteer Centre after our trip to the Philippines.  This is my fourth blog and I want to say something about how our partners NASSA/Caritas Philippines (NASSA for short) and the Church is working to enable people and the planet to have a more sustainable future.  I’ll try and give a brief outline of how the Church is already responding to social concerns, based on its structures, what its potential is to make further improvements and the directions it seeks to take.  Once again, these are just the impressions I’ve received from what we’ve witnessed heard from others there.

Church-sponsored Social Action work operates at all levels (local/parish, diocesan and national).  Throughout this work, like a thread through their lives, people expect and plan for coping with natural disasters (earthquakes, typhoons, landslides, floods, volcanic eruptions, etc.).  On Palm Sunday, they collect money and keep some for local development work (helping people make their lives better), put some aside for emergencies (typhoons, earthquakes, etc.) and send some to NASSA to provide support to the whole church and respond where the local Church can’t cope.  Typhoons are an example and the recent ones have been so damaging that even the local and national support wasn’t enough so other Caritas agencies like CAFOD came to help.

blog 4 .1A great example of people coping with such circumstances was in Pasig south of Manila where Fr Errol is the PP of a parish of 20,000.  We were there at a survey meeting with NASSA staff to find out where local people need most training to cope with the next major shock.  They already know they are OK at dealing with floods because four years ago, heavy rains on the Sierra Madre Mountains became an 8-foot torrent around the church.  Huge amounts of damage.  People now have an evacuation drill worked out and practise it regularly so NASSA will help train local people to deal with earthquakes instead.  To cope with such events, Fr Errol has setting up local Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) of 15-20 families each.  The Groups meet weekly and pray but they are also dealing with the issues of their lives.  He meets monthly with representatives from each BEC and visits the BECs on a rolling programme too.  This is a growing model – in 2017 people are more focussed on parishes becoming “communities of communities.” NASSA is keen to encourage parishes and BECs to go beyond emergency relief and support one another on a more regular basis, responding to needs as local people see it.  NASSA work largely through their local diocesan Social Action Centres who support such developments, some more strongly than others.  In my first blog, I mentioned the work of Lipa Archdiocese’s Social Action Centre nearby (LASAC) as a strong example.  This idea of small communities is at the heart of the Self-Help Group Programme in the Lipa area where women cluster together and save a little money each week in a credit union.  On the back of this a massive movement has quickly grown with four towns covered by their own network of such groups in depth.  These networks in clusters and in larger federations advocate for political change as well as basic community and economic development.  The Groups design and lead the new developments.

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Florenzio, right, whose nickname is Entoy

We heard about the need for this approach too from Environmentalist Florenzio from Sorsogon Diocese.  When we were looking at the world stats, he was not only familiar with the international picture of poverty, inequality and power as we looked at the world map but also knew well the local position too.  His group have completed a local audit and had a map as part of the planning for emergency relief led by NASSA across the country.  He knew where the people who didn’t have toilets (or latrines) were, those who didn’t have running water, and about child health concerns for under 5s.  Fishermen and farmers were the poorest he told me and his greatest concern was for the environmental damage in fishing and the dumping of waste by people.  He struck me with his quiet and deep commitment to improving the lot of farmers and fishermen who struggle with poor conditions, low wages and the poisoning and dynamiting of fish stocks with poor support for their rights from the Government.  He had nearly been shot in defence of local people and told me calmly and matter-of-factly that he was ready to die for what he believed in, the beauty of the earth and the needs of the poor, and was proud of the involvement of the Church in this.

When I asked him what he hoped for from the day, he quietly thought for a moment and, reverting to his own language, simply said, “Bayanihan!”  This means “spirit of cooperation”, a term Filipinos have coined from a practical example.  Many people live in houses which need to be more mobile than we are used to because of the natural hazards they face.  When someone needs to move, they often literally move their house on poles too. This takes a great deal of effort from a team of people and this practice is used to encapsulate the spirit of cooperation.

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Typical Bayanihan hut

We saw a wonderful Church-sponsored rice growing project in the north.  317 rice farmers have grouped together through the Social Action Centre to form an organic cooperative.  Tatay (“Grandad”) Ben, deeply respected we were told by the farmers, tests the farms for artificial fertilisers and encourages people to stay in the scheme.  He told me that unless something was done to protect the land, it would become exhausted in 40 years with over-farming and climate change.  You can see in his hands a sample of the organic fertiliser they have developed which is like rocket fuel for rice!  He was another who calmly spoke his truth to us, cradling the soil in his hands – it was part of him – all the time we were speaking with him.

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Tatay Ben with finished organic fertiliser

I also met resistance to taking social action.  A young man told me earnestly about the wonderful BECs (6 in his parish) and it was early days.  The Groups were focussed on prayer activity so far with a 2-hour Bible study a day.  However, he was reluctant to get involved in social action: “The rich have more and they should give more!  We will pray!”  Some we used in the training, such as the Lampedusa Cross Service, encouraged people not only to pray but to find out about the world, to share their concerns from compassion and to consider taking action.  While he has a good point, we hoped he too would put his shoulder to the wheel after the training!

And he does have a point about the rich of course.  CAFOD’s work in the Philippines is now at an end – for the moment at least as we need to focus scarce resources on other nations.  NASSA are trying to become more independent of foreign aid and engage more people in social action and supporting their local people but I also learnt this from Analyn, NASSA’s community worker: 76% of the $13bn annual income in the Philippines is in the hands of just 40 families.

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Forbes Magazine 2011

This means that the other 104,000,000 people have only 24% of the wealth of the nation to keep them going, which was only $3.75 Billion around $36.06 per person per year.  That’s not CAFOD being mean or tired – if we had more, we could give more to more partners.  It’s simple: other nations need our support even more.  The Church in the Philippines, who also gave to the people of Nepal in the 2015 earthquake, are trying to share their resources better and encourage more people to make their voices heard in favour of the poor.

Find out more about the work CAFOD does in the Philippines. 

Ged’s reflections on the impact of Typhoon Haiyan

Ged’s latest blog discusses the impacts of Typhoon Haiyan and his visit to Daganas.

Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines on November 8 2013.

At least 2 million people in 41 provinces were affected by the disaster and 23,000 houses damaged or destroyed.  The final death toll, though well in excess of 6,500, is still incomplete. It was then the second biggest Typhoon ever recorded with winds reaching 195 mph (Hurricane Katrina was 146 mph).

It was the first emergency I had come across in my work for CAFOD.  We were soon busy visiting schools and parishes updating people about the response and asking the Catholic community for financial support to help people get back on their feet.  Nearly four years on, I am in the Philippines with the chance to see for myself the of CAFOD’s support had helped to bring about.

At the time, I remember the pictures of almost total devastation in pictures from the eastern coastal districts of the country.  I spoke to Bishop John Arnold, CAFOD’s Chairman, not long after he became Bishop of Salford after his return from an early visit.  I remember him talking about the dignity of the people and how they were just getting on with the massive repair job with smiles on their faces.  Filipinos are used to such disasters and, expecting it, somehow seem to rise above much of the worst of such situations and combined with their culture of supporting one another, I’ve found here that things are pretty well back to normal.  20 – 30 typhoons a year are normal (along with 60 earthquakes, plus landslides, volcanic eruptions and so on).  The NASSA staff though were deeply shocked at the scale of the havoc the Typhoon wreaked.  There were stories of the Government reacting slowly but that wasn’t the case with the Church.  While CAFOD raised in the end £5.4m, NASSA was assessing the situation quickly with its Diocesan partners in the affected areas and making sure that people got what they needed and were in a position to use it.

In the time we’ve had, we were unable to fit in a visit to a Haiyan project.  However, NASSA had CAFOD money left over after responding to Haiyan and, by agreement with CAFOD, used it to support communities dealing with a similar severe Typhoon in 2015, Typhoon Melor.  Last weekend we went to one of those communities, Daganas, near Butan in Sorsogon Province where NASSA worked with their partner Diocesan Social Action Centre to help people get back on their feet.

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A view of Daganas

Jimmy said that before the Typhoon came, 95% of the village were in poverty.

He described the work of NASSA as a great blessing and asked us to thank all the people from CAFOD who had made it possible.  “As we are blessed,” he said, “I know God will bless you all.”

Before the typhoon, all of the houses were simple and bamboo structures and the storm smashed many of them to pieces.  With money for materials and advice from engineers, local people rebuilt 25 of the houses with Typhoon- and earthquake-resistant materials on solid foundations.  Beyond supplying emergency food and water and ensuring the water supply and sanitation in the village was functioning, NASSA’s assessment had included what local people could provide including materials and labour for the rebuilding.  We visited one family who had sold their pigs to pay for the roof timbers while NASSA provided them with corrugated steel, concrete and technical advice.  Family and friends then rebuilt the house.  But the transformation didn’t stop there.  Once the community was back up and running, NASSA worked with them to strengthen the community by setting up a self-help group which meets weekly.  They now have a credit union with over 140 members which has saved £1,000 since January.  Their new ties make it easier for Anna and Conception, the two community health workers who are also Barangay Councillors, to help with child health and to keep adults safer too.

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A typical hut

The community lived largely off what grew in the forest that surrounds the village, particularly bananas which were sold at market.  The ground is fertile though difficult to cultivate because it’s on a hillside and the Typhoon made short work of the banana trees.  The response from NASSA and its partner was to help those interested in setting up small-scale animal farming and provided pigs and chickens to 35 households which had not had their houses rebuilt.  We visited several of these.

What is it like to meet someone who has received such support?  For me, one person whom I met was so shy and self-effacing I found I couldn’t ask her to revisit such terrible events even though there were so many things I would have liked to know.

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Amy

Like most of community, Amy and her family were made starkly aware of their own vulnerability by the Typhoon. It became clear to me that every day is a struggle for her and her children as she works and waits for the better life she hopes will be theirs and which, with CAFOD’s help, she is making a reality. My reaction was frankly to bow (inside!) before the Spirit of God because of the simple and dignified way she approached life and others given all that she had endured and the way she bravely and steadily was working her way forward.

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Amy’s piglet

I awkwardly asked a few practical questions: what is it like to look after the sow?!  “It’s OK,” she says, “but it takes a lot of water” which she has to keep fetching from the village pump at the bottom of the slope to water the pig and both clean it and the sty. Now she has her second litter of piglets.  We get talking – she is really proud of the piglets which are thriving.  From the first litter, she had not only fulfilled her commitment to pass on the gift of the sow by giving not one but two piglets to other families, but she was also able to send her daughter to school in Bulan with the money she made (2,000 Philippine pesos – about £33).  My colleague explains that she has continued to be generous with the second litter too promising one to another family and this startling generosity between people who have so little is something we come across throughout the village.

We met other villagers too, those with plans for a new start after reconstructing their houses and setting up a small convenience store.  One couple in particular were grateful for all the support NASSA had provided and gave us a large bunch of bananas and a huge jack fruit and papaya.  Such generosity was followed by a meal at Jimmy’s where we joined his family to celebrate their son passing his teaching exam.  He also gave our NASSA colleagues a ride on his tricycle as you can see!

A wonderful day!

Find out more about the work CAFOD does in the Philippines. 

Tricycle ride!

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The gift of fruit

 

St Anne’s Ormskirk celebrates their Live Simply Weekend!

St Anne’s Ormskirk is one of the parishes across the Archdiocese taking part in the Live Simply Award Scheme. To celebrate approaching the half way point they hosted a Live Simply weekend.

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A stall with information about Livesimply.

The weekend started with a shared lunch after mass on Saturday which some asylum seekers from Ormskirk and Skelmersdale came to, to provide a chance to integrate with the community, and to allow the parishioners to “Live in Solidarity”. About 50 people attended this and brought lots of almost entirely vegetarian food, “Living sustainably”.

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Some of the food available.

There were displays about the work so far in the Live Simply campaign, including artwork done by the children in St Anne’s school,  a Fair Trade stall and sales for Sreepur Vilage in Bangladesh, which carried on with coffee after Masses on Sunday morning. The stalls raised £180 .78 for Fairtrade and £53.40 for Sreepur Village. Fair Trade tea and coffee as always after Sunday morning masses and proceeds to Marian Care in Southport as always after Sunday Morning Masses.

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The Fairtrade stall.

At all of the four Sunday Masses, including the Saturday evening vigil mass, the priests preached on the theme of Live Simply, there were appropriate hymns and Live Simply themed bidding prayers and Eucharistic prayer IV for special occasions – Jesus who went about doing good – was used.

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Some of the artwork created by the local primary school St Anne’s.

At each Mass parishioners completed pledges, for how they would Live Simply, Sustainably or in Solidarity, and they were then collected and included in the offertory.  The four masses were attended by 534 people in total, and a lot of pledges were collected.

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Some of the many pledges by parisioners.

At the 10.30 family Mass the children in the liturgy group made their own pledges on big suns which they brought in and took up as part of the Offertory and they stayed on the altar during Mass then went to the Lady Chapel.

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An individual pledge.

The pledges are currently being sorted, and listed, to see which pledges are most popular to allow the parish to focus on particular activities while allowing individual parishioners to focus on their own pledge.

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Some of the Live Simply artwork displayed on the pillars around the church.

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A sign encouraging people to switch off the lights, to save electricity.

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A sign pointing to the recycling bins, to encourage recycling.

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A bin, for used teabags.

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One of the many CAFOD posters.

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A poster explaining many of the different food labels.

An “Inspiring” Day With Fr Peter Hughes and Sarah Croft in Wrightington

St Joseph’s Parish Centre, Wrightington played host to an “Inspiring” and “Great” day on Saturday, 8th July 2017.

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Some of the audience members.

Fr Peter Hughes SSC, a Columban Missionary, was our keynote speaker, and will be speaking at the National Justice and Peace Network annual Conference, as a result the event was a joint event with our friends at the Liverpool Justice and Peace Commission.

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Fr Peter During his talk.

During a “wonderful” talk that “provided much food for thought” Fr Peter described the influence that climate change is having on the indigenous communities in Peru. He went on to describe a new scheme, backed by Pope Francis, called REPAM “Red Eclesial PanAmazónica”, which transaltes to “PanAmazon Ecclesial Network”. The scheme allowed the leaders of indigenous communities in Latin America to talk about their experiences in front of the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights at the UN.

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Fr Peter, with some of CAFOD’s volunteers.

You can watch the talk by going to youtube.com/watch?v=YS9YHNh0uDc the audience were then invited to ask questions, which you can watch at youtube.com/watch?v=Yww2UBkcs8k

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Some of the audience posing for a photograph.

After the event Fr Peter said “I spoke today from a Latin American perspective about climate change. As Catholics, we all have our own part to play in helping to fight against poverty and climate change across the world.”

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CAFOD’s Campaigns Manager Sarah Croft.

After a short break, Sarah Croft, who is CAFOD’s Campaigns Manager spoke about CAFOD’s Power to Be campaign which calls on Melanie Robinson, the UK’s representative at the World Bank,  to support renewable energy which tackles poverty, so everyone can have the chance to fulfill their God-given potential. It was said that Sarah “did a great job in explaining the new project”.

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The audience enjoying one of the talks.

The discussion then turned to the LiveSimply Award which is an opportunity for Catholic communities – parishes, schools, religious orders and chaplaincies – to respond to Pope Francis’ invitation in Laudato Si’ to “work with generosity and tenderness in protecting this world which God has entrusted to us”. Livesimply is beginning to take off across the Archdiocese, with St Anne’s Ormskirk for example hosting a Livesimply weekend to celebrate the parish reaching the midway stage.

You can watch Sarah talking about Power to Be and Live Simply by visiting youtube.com/watch?v=e9MD9Zta5jw

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Sarah Croft listening to a question from the audience

Unfortunately the local MP was unable to attend, so for the final session of the day Sarah Croft spoke about the MP Correspondent Scheme which is a scheme that enables you to help ensure that the voices of many of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people are heard in the corridors of power.

Sarah’s talk can be seen at youtube.com/watch?v=fW6ocLwKAY4

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Colette from CAFOD Liverpool leading the group in a closing prayer.

After the event Sarah said “We are privileged and inspired to have heard first-hand how our sisters and brothers in Latin America are responding to the Pope’s call to listen to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. We have our part to play in the UK too.”

The day then ended with a shared lunch, you can see all of the videos in one place by clicking youtube.com/playlist?list=PL5UUtVasGFc-wnmD4j_YjtyHpUYB5a1iY

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Some of CAFOD’s volunteers standing together, outside St Joseph’s Parish Centre

Ged in the Philippines: Training volunteers for social action

Ged’s message this week comes from the Alay Kapwa programme in Manila, Philippines.

The reason David, Maggie and I are in the Philippines is to help our partner NASSA/Caritas Philippines (NASSA for short) help the church here do two things.

Firstly, train community leaders to engage and work with volunteers in their area in social action and secondly help the Church make their response to social concerns more sustainable financially with less dependence on international aid.  The second aim is good in that it encourages self-reliance, though, in our experience here, there is little sign of that missing!  In almost every encounter we are touched not only by the strength of the spirit of people here but also with the groundedness and cheerfulness of those we meet.  As a nation, they take this approach too; on Friday, the electricity supplies throughout metro-Manila for over 11 million people will be cut as they practise an earthquake drill, preparing for the “Big One” they know is coming.  The threat is real alright; even their Cathedral for example has been destroyed five times by earthquakes.  Last year they had 60.  In Tacloban yesterday a 6.9 quake struck the city (in earlier plans we would have been there then!).

On top of having to deal with the daily struggles of life, 104m people live on land and near the seas which can hurl such immense forces at them as well.  Surprisingly, this does not seem to teach them paralysing fear but deep respect for the earth and one another, and they are better at not holding onto things which are not permanent, even their cities (families are different of course).

So, what comes across is not so much that they should cope on their own but the inequality of the distribution of the world’s resources, particularly in such circumstances.  But the Philippines is no social paradise.  Although its annual income as a nation is small, still 76% of it goes to a very few people at the “top” (Japan’s figure is 2.8% by the way).  150,000 families here own more than the poorest 6 million.  3.8 million people are living on less than £4.70 a day for all their food and non-food needs.

The solution? Pope Francis says: “Without a solution to the problems of the poor, we will not solve the problems of the world. We need projects, mechanisms and processes to implement better distribution of resources, from the creation of new jobs to the integral promotion of those who are excluded.”   Even the World Bank agrees with this.  But locally, what can they do?  As Pope Francis says, “This concern for the poor is in the Gospel, it is within the tradition of the Church.”

I mentioned in the last blog that NASSA collect money to support the Church’s social action work on Palm Sunday each year in a programme called Alay Kapwa.  NASSA want to expand this so that the message of Alay Kapwa (offer help to your neighbour based on Mt 25:40) is more prominent in the Church’s life throughout the year.  CAFOD’s Fast Days are similar, highpoints in our compassionate response. Alay Kapwa is designed to, “contribute to the struggle for genuine development.  It aims to address 4 basic challenges of the Philippine Church:

  • Split-level (people saying they care and not caring too much in practice)
  • Inequality: see above
  • Fragmentation: providing a focus for parishes improves engagement
  • Dependency: see above

The money is raised goes to fund development work, works of mercy and works of justice: advocacy,” (source: NASSA).

With CAFOD, we learn and give but we take action during the year too through campaigning like with the Power to Be Campaign at the moment (if you haven’t taken part, please do!).  And we also pray, engaging one another, hearing the concerns of our sisters and brothers and, in that place in our hearts where God is, choosing to say yes or no; do we respond this time or not?

Well, that’s why we are helping people do by training people to recruit and manage volunteers in their parishes here to grow Alay Kapwa.  At our first two-day workshop, we trained 25 leading volunteers in San Jose (St Joseph’s) Diocese using CAFOD’s resources David had adapted as much as possible for the Philippines.  It’s fantastic to put all of this together – we should do this at home too!  Underneath it all is Catholic Social Teaching and the Pastoral Cycle process: See, judge, act – and celebrate!  The people who came were all parish volunteers or workers, leaders of Basic Ecclesial Communities, the groups of which the parishes are composed.  Most of the parishes in the Philippines give to the Alay Kapwa campaign and we talked about how to engage people so that they want to give as a response locally, nationally and indeed internationally (the Church here gave money to help people in Nepal after the terrible 2015 earthquake).

We started with World Statistics Icebreaker to engage people in social concerns.  In managing volunteers, we focused on how to find and sustain volunteers and, in particular, how to use and develop their own resources which we’ve used in our work with schools.  For example, the Life Without Taps Game which highlights life and death issues related to the most basic need, water.  We led them in prayer using the Lampedusa Cross Pilgrimage with its focus on the experience of refugees and into basic campaigning with the Power to Be Campaign liturgy where participants are invited in both cases to take action to address injustice and support the poor through prayer.  We used films (for example on Catholic Social Teaching) and supplemented this with a simple card exercise.  We also focused on the importance of child protection to ensure the most vulnerable are safe within their own communities while acting for the Church and on thanking volunteers for their support.

The reaction?  NASSA staff are pleased with it and the lively responses from participants whom they see as “stirred up.”

More on this in our next epic instalment!

For now, thanks for your attention!