Pastoral Letter: Lent Among Sendong Evacuee Families by +Antonio J. Ledesma, S.J.

+Antonio J. Ledesma, S.J.
Archbishop of Cagayan de Oro

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY  (MindaNews/10 March) —  On 7 March 2012, at the former cemetery site of the archdiocese, 67 evacuee families affected by Typhoon Sendong had the inaugural blessing of their new transitional shelter homes.

These low-cost housing units were constructed under the supervision of Catholic Relief Services which had teamed up with the archdiocese in the relief and rehabilitation efforts in the aftermath of Typhoon Sendong on Dec. 16-17.

Thirty-five families coming from the washed-out area of Macasandig had been housed in the basement of Our Lady of Fatima Parish Church in Camaman-an. Thirty-two other families, formerly living under the Marcos bridge, had been given shelter on the grounds of Sacred Heart Parish in Kauswagan.

These two groups were now coming together in “Amakan Village” – so called, because the walls of the housing units are made of interwoven bamboo slats (amakan). Each housing unit has a floor space of 18 square meters. A slightly tilted roof made of galvanized iron sheets provides some air circulation from the top in addition to two open windows on the sides. Common cooking and toilet areas are also located to serve the needs of a cluster of ten housing units.

In the coming weeks, CRS will be completing 50 more amakan-type housing units on the open grounds of San Jose de Mindanao Seminary. Nearby, 33 units are being constructed on the open field of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary. Among the evacuee families expected to occupy these housing units are the 40 families living in tents (called shelter boxes) on the grounds of Mount Carmel Parish. Other families will be coming from the evacuation centers in barangay covered courts in Macasandig and Tibasak.


In addition to these transitional shelter arrangements which may last from several months to one or two years, the archdiocese through our Social Action Center has also been helping about twenty community associations to be organized among the families of “internally displaced persons” (IDP’s). Four community organizers have been hired for this purpose. This participatory approach will enable their leaders to choose from among possible relocation sites

for permanent housing and to avail of the Community Mortgage Program (CMP). Under this scheme, the government’s Socialized Housing Finance Corporation (SHFC) purchases the land and allows homeowners to pay by monthly instalments over a 25-year amortization period. The National Housing Authority (NHA) offers a similar program for formal settlers.


Meanwhile, both government agencies and private sector donors have offered to construct nearly 5,000 housing units at an average cost of P90,000 – P110,000. The core houses will have a floor space of 21 square meters. Homelot sizes may range from 40 to 80 square meters. The challenge now is to negotiate for the purchase of more housing sites at affordable prices.


In this regard, the archdiocese is looking at the possibility of helping homeowners’ associations acquire and develop a three-hectare area in upper Macasandig. An access road is being cleared with the assistance of government equipment. Other possible sites in Indahag and Lumbia are also being eyed by these homeowners’ associations. Xavier University on its part had a ground-breaking ceremony on March 3 for its 570 permanent housing units to be constructed on its five hectares in Xavier Ecoville, Lumbia.


In one sense, the archdiocese’s contribution is not so much in housing, but in the spiritual ministry focused on the multiple and complex needs of evacuee families that have been traumatized by the sudden loss of loved ones or of entire homes. The Association of Women Religious of the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro (AWRACO) has designated various congregations of sisters to particular evacuation centers. Household visits by the sisters on weekends or free days are a personalized way of accompaniment much appreciated by the evacuee families.


We have also encouraged our ministry workers to offer various kinds of seminars in the evacuation centers for those interested – e.g., on the Bible, Natural Family Planning, values formation for family life, devotion to the Divine Mercy, etc. Catechists and formators of Basic Ecclesial Communities may also find a receptive audience among the evacuee families. As we continue to move on in the season of Lent and approach the events of Holy Week, community activities like the block rosary, outdoor Stations of the Cross, and Mass celebrations can be an effective way of creating new bonds of solidarity among evacuee families.


In the Lenten Message of Pope Benedict XVI, we are reminded of the exhortation in the Letter to the Hebrews (10:24): “Let us be concerned for each other, to stir a response in love and good works.” Let this be our own call as we continue to be one with our brothers and sisters in their journey of transition from evacuation centers to the creation of more sustainable and life-giving human communities. (Archbishop Antonio J. Ledesma, SJ, is the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro)