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Columban missionaries: Typhoon Haiyan is 'beyond description' in its severity, extent & human suffering

The Columban General Council has sent out the following statement on Philippines Typhoon Haiyan.

As we approach one week since the world began to watch the tragedy of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines unfold, Fr Kevin O’Neill, Superior General of the Missionary Society of St Columban said: “We mourn the loss of countless lives and extend our deepest sorrow for the people who have suffered from the recent typhoon in the Philippines. We join with millions around the world in prayer and solidarity as the communities begin to recover.”

Columban missionaries have been present in the Philippines since 1929 and have accompanied the people through devastating social, political, and environmental circumstances. Of Typhoon Haiyan, Columban Philippines Regional Director Fr Pat O’Donoghue said, “I have experienced a number of calamities here in the Philippines, including the earthquake and tsunami that killed over 2,000 in Pagadian in 1976, but never anything of this magnitude. It is beyond description in terms of its severity, extent and human suffering.”

With Columban founded projects like the Center for Ecozoic Living and Learning and the Negros Nine Foundation, which has among its priorities Carbon Reduction and Alternative Energy strategies, Columbans are working to restore right relationships with all people and Creation.

According to Amy Woolam Echeverria, Columban International Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) Coordinator:  “Typhoons like these are not isolated events, but evidence that human dependency on and over
consumption of fossil fuels is directly related to climate change which is the greatest threat to all of Creation. Pope Francis on the occasion of World Environment Day asked these questions, ‘Are we truly cultivating and caring for creation? Or are we exploiting and neglecting it?’ These are the questions that invite us into a restored relationship of harmony with Creation and one another”.

For nearly a decade Columban missionaries have prioritized Climate Change as a JPIC issue. International Columban eco-theologian and author of Climate Change: A Challenge to Us All, Fr Sean McDonagh has warned of the widespread damage of climate change pointing to the Philippines as one example saying, "A one-metre rise in sea level in the Philippines will affect 64 out of the 81 provinces. Already, the Philippines is coping with more frequent and severe typhoons, and farmers are having to deal with increasingly unstable climate patterns".

We see this latest environmental disaster as yet another example of the growing devastation caused by human induced Climate Change which has far reaching impacts including increased migration, violence and poverty around the world.

At the United Nations Climate Change Conference this week in Warsaw, Poland, the Philippine Envoy, Yeb Sano, broke down as he related events in his home province of Leyte to the Conference. While he appreciated the sympathy expressed by delegates he said action was needed now. Columbans welcome this call to action and as such are committed to:

• Advocating for global policies that restore right relationships with all people and Creation;
• Educating people and communities about climate change and related JPIC issues;
• Inviting people to prayer and action through service and solidarity

Columbans will work with the local diocese, Religious Congregations and other credible agencies in the affected area to offer assistance in the recovery effort which will be long and extensive.

Rev. Kevin O’Neill, SSC
Superior General
Hong Kong, 13 November 2013


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