Since 16 December 2021, the brothers of the Custody of St Anthony of Padua in the Southern Philippines, together with the people they serve, have experienced the destructive onslaught of Super Typhoon Rai (also called “Odette” in the Philippines).

The Philippines, which is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change, is slammed by an average of 20 storms and typhoons each year, destroying crops, homes, and infrastructure in already destitute areas. Super Typhoon Odette is the country’s 15th storm of the year and the most powerful storm of 2021. According to the Philippines’ National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, at than a hundred people are reported to have died as a result of the typhoon, with more than 1.8 million more affected.

Emergency shelter, food, water, sanitation and hygiene, evacuation support, family reunion, health care, and protection of at-risk populations are among the immediate needs following a typhoon of this magnitude. Thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes and are being housed in evacuation centers. Evacuees have been welcomed into churches and schools.

Minister Custos, Br. Renee Dean, OFM, described their experiences:

On that fateful hour of December 16, prior to making a landfall, the people of Visayas and Mindanao (the same areas comprising the Custody) were warned of the imminent strength of Tropical Storm “Odette” [International Name: Rai]. But it seemed that most of us have underestimated its wrath which escalated to a ‘Super Typhoon’ as it made its initial landfall. At around 7:00 o’clock in the evening, “Odette” pummeled the island of Cebu for the next three hours. The said island is where our Custodial House, a parish, the postulancy house, and our house for the elderly and the sick are located. Anxious of a storm surge, our sick and elder friars were evacuated in the dead of the night while braving the storm to our parish-friary located in the city uptown area.”

Some of the friars managed to help in the evacuation of our neighbors by lending our friary vehicles. Our parish immediately opened its doors to shelter our evacuating parishioners. The aftermath was heartbreaking. We saw the light of dawn with most of our houses and the homes of our neighbors destroyed. The ordeal has just begun. At the moment, Cebu and the nearby provinces are in chaos with people endlessly queuing for food, water, and fuel which is being aggravated by the unsystematic and slow response from the government. With phone signals and powerlines down, communication is very difficult. We are yet to assess the damage incurred by our friaries and schools in Negros Oriental, another badly hit province by the infamous storm.”

The brothers are now engaged in the work of humanitarian disaster relief, major repairs, and rebuilding.

In a message of solidarity to Brother Renee and the friars of the Custody in the Southern Philippines, Minister General Brother Massimo Fusarelli wrote:

“I want to affirm the Filipino people’s tenacity in the face of tragedy and pray that they may once again be gifted with the fortitude and strength to rise, as well as the faith and hope to look to God. We pray for the friars and the Catholic church’s unceasing efforts to respond to these extensive and repeated tragedies in the Philippines.”