Building a community from the ground up

30th August 2017 - by Katie Fitzpatrick

On 16-17 December 2011, Typhoon Sendong caused catastrophic devastation in Cagayan de Oro on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines. The International Red Cross recorded 1472 deaths, 1074 missing and 1748 injured. Nearly 40,000 homes were damaged of which 11,463 were destroyed, affecting 700,000 people.

The poor suffered the brunt of the typhoon’s destructive force. Those made homeless were given temporary accommodation in overcrowded and unhygienic shelters, but bureaucratic disorganization and internal politics made it impossible to respond adequately to the crisis.

Eventually, religious orders and missionary congregations working in the affected areas realized that the best way forward was to join together in a common effort. A consortium was formed including the Columban Missionaries, Stigmatine Fathers and the Religious of the Virgin Mary, the Poor Servants of Divine Providence, Marian Fathers, Sacred Heart Missionaries and the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro. This consortium decided to begin a project to provide low cost housing for homeless families. 

Five years on and thanks to partnership with the government, international organisations, Columban and other donors and the families now housed by the project, a colourful new village has been built called Mother of Divine Mercy Village, consisting of new houses for 550 families (3,500 people), all with clean water and electricity, a day care and health centre, educational and meeting facilities, and a children’s playground.

The village is located in Opol near the city of Cagayan de Oro, where Columban Fr. Enrique Escobar serves as parish priest. His predecessor is Fr. Paul Finlayson, the Columban asked in 2012 to become involved in finding a solution to the homeless crisis caused by Typhoon Sendong. Since early 2016, Fr. Paul has lived in the village and is committed full time to the families who live there, providing counselling, spiritual guidance and helping in the vital work of forming community. Fr Paul is finding the challenge of responding holistically to the families, whose lives were ravaged by the typhoon, a new opportunity to live out his missionary vocation. Not only is he literally building a community from the ground up by helping to organize the construction of the village, but also he is actively involved in forming a new, vibrant community.