Father Cyrain Cabuenas, parish administrator for four local churches, is a native of Samar province, a region of the Philippines on one of the country’s easternmost islands. Immediately following the typhoon, he was out of contact with his family for a week as the storm surge caused severe devastation to his hometown.
“We’re no stranger to typhoons, or hurricanes, as you call them here,” said Cabuenas. “Where we’re from, our region is visited by storms 24 times a year, but we were not prepared for this. There were preparations, but they thought it was just another storm.”
Cabuenas is one of four Catholic priests on loan to the diocese of Burlington from the Philippines. While he attends to his duties in two churches in Stamford and one each in Readsbor and Wilmington, Cabuenas’ native diocese of Guiuan was flattened, with over 100 deaths and the destruction of a 400-year-old church. Cabuenas was cut off from communicating with his parents, and it took his father eight hours to reach a phone connection. Cabuenas also would receive the news that an uncle was one of more than 1,000 people to perish in the city of Tacloban.
While Cabuenas’ family home was not destroyed because of its concrete structure, the majority of houses in his region are made from light materials and were destroyed. What has resulted is a humanitarian crisis that Cabuenas says has no immediate solution.
“The extent of the damage is unbelievable,” said Cabuenas, who contemplated returning home but could not due to the country’s accessibility issues after the storm. “There is nothing left in these cities, villages, and towns. Everybody is desperate for food, and dying of hunger. Most people there rely on farming and fishing, and that was the first thing that was impacted. The fishing boats were all damaged and all farm equipment is gone, so it’s really hard because you have to rebuild for 90% of the people there.”
While the American Red Cross has pledged $11 million in aid, Cabuenas says that getting actual, effective aid and money to the Philippines is extremely difficult. “We can send checks and goods right to the bishops there if we want to, but it will take months to get there,” said Cabuenas. He also said the most effective way to donate is directly through the Philippine bishops who provide help and guidance to the Catholic population of the country.
One of Cabuenas’ parishioners, local auctioneer Bob Lambert, recently collected donations from local businesses for a 100% donation auction to raise money for Cabuenas to send to his brother, a priest in the Philippines. The auction will be held Saturday at 2 pm at North Star Bowl, and will feature over 30 gift certificates to local establishments.
Lambert said he felt inspired to do something after remembering the feeling he had sitting in a hotel in Seattle watching CNN reports on Wilmington as the town was hammered by Irene. Knowing Cabuenas’ feelings of helplessness are incomparable, Lambert decided there was no better time than the holiday season to take action. “The struggle to thrive is different then the struggle to survive,” said Lambert. “There’s a difference between ‘I can’t make ends meet because business is down,’ and not having the basics like food or water. We’re going boots right to the ground with this money.”
Cabuenas says that his countrymen and -women are strong-willed and will be able to find relief and solace in their faith. “The toughest battles are given to the strongest soldiers,” said Cabuenas. “Even in suffering, tough as it may seem, people there don’t feel they’re forsaken. Amid the devastation, to them it’s not the evidence of God’s absence, it’s telling the people there to go back to him.”