Philippines: the 8th Rosa Mystica Medical Mission

Source: FSSPX News

Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines on November 7th last year, leaving thousands dead and hundreds of thousands homeless. The island of Leyte and its capital, Tacloban, with 250,000 inhabitants, were the most affected. The Society of St. Pius X was not spared either; the chapel of Tacloban was destroyed, as was the mission vehicle parked there. Many of the faithful were struck as well, some through the loss of a relative, and the majority through destruction of their property.

This year’s Rosa Mystica Medical Mission took place in the devastated city of Tacloban therefore, from January 20th to the 25th. Doctors and nurses were invited to volunteer by the Association Catholique des Infirmieres et Medecins (ACIM) [Catholic association of nurses and doctors] and the Society of St. Pius X’s District of Asia (see DICI no. 285, 22/11/13).

The group of French volunteers arrived January 18 in the airport of Tacloban and climbed into a van that no longer had any upholstery inside, with the dashboard taped together and windows that wouldn’t open. A child approached them asking for food, saying “Hungry!” and the French gave him what remained of their travel snacks.  Their first impression of the city was an incredible jumble of tents, coloured tarps, corrugated metal panels, and mounds of garbage along the roads. The people were living there, on the mud. It was a frightening, even nightmarish sight to see houses collapsed, piles of metal, warehouses roofless or destroyed, homes of which only a few wall panels remained. Gigantic trees lay along the ground, their roots a pathetic heavenwards gesture; the telephone poles were knocked down. The van drove through kilometres of this. In the van “we could not speak, we looked in dead silence at a reality beyond our imaginations, beyond anything we had seen in the media.” But here, many Filipino journalists were unafraid to emphasize that a great number of the religious statues were spared.

On location they set up their quarters as best they could in various lodgings, some without water, some without electricity, some without beds. The other volunteers trickled in little by little; some could not come because of the weather with heavy winds and rain, which led to many flight and boat cancellations. The Brothers of the Society took four days to travel from Iloilo, a trip that normally takes  two and a half hours by plane.

The orientation, held Sunday, January 19th, assembled volunteers from the four corners of the earth, in numerical order, from the Philippines, France, Australia, the US, Switzerland, Ireland, Vietnam, Belgium, New Zealand, Singapore, Korea, South Africa, Malaysia, Canada, and one young lady of Turkish origin who spoke Aramaic. In total we had about 60 volunteers, to be joined later on by another 20 from Manila and the US.

Yolly Gamutan, the secretary of ACIM Asia, was able to obtain, after a month of negotiation with municipal authorities, and with the help of Providence and her startling smile, a haven of relative peace—this stadium, a gigantic amphitheatre centred on a basketball court, the national sport. The roof, partly torn away, provided some shelter from the pouring rain but a pond soon formed right in the middle of the medical intervention area. Ironically, in a space without running water, without toilets and without electricity, the team would have to care for over 500 people per day.

The 14 doctors were spread out in the dry areas of the stadium. On the first day 16 volunteers who were supposed to look after translation and registration had not arrived yet. This was a major obstruction to the flow of patients initially. Each doctor was set up at a relatively stable table with a Tagalog-English translator, but many of the patients did not speak Tagalog but another dialect, Visayan. There were several zones: one for the seven GPs, one for the three pediatricians, one for the two opticians, one for the dermatologist, one for the dentist—a record number of doctors for Rosa Mystica. One corner was reserved for bandages, private examinations, minor surgery, and the electrocardiogram recorder, and the pharmacy was divided into three sections (dentists, adults, children) and took up an entire length of the basketball court.

The flow of patients began with registration, then basic clinical assessment, which allows high blood pressure and unrecognized diabetes. Then each patient was directed to the appropriate zone. After a medical examination, he would proceed to the pharmacy. Rosa Mystica is responsible for the full cost of medical activities related to biology, radiology and hospitalization, thanks to all its benefactors.

Numerous patients admitted to praying a great deal in their difficult situations. The volunteers reported, “We did not see any rebellion. What a beautiful lesson in hope!”

This year the incredible generosity of benefactors made it possible to send in a construction team make up of five Australians, two Americans, one Irishman, a Pied-Noir turned New Caledonian, three Frenchmen and about twenty Filipinos. These 32 volunteers, carpenters, electricians, roofers, plumbers, tile layers, took up the incredible challenge of rebuilding four houses and a chapel in 10 days. A few people in dire need were given financial aid as well for lack of time. With the grace of God, this challenge was met successfully thanks to the ardor and the abilities of each one.

The missionary activity was not limited to this. Four priests were available to distribute scapulars and administer the sacraments. Every day the first mass was said by Father Coenrad Daniels, a South African priest. Why such early hours? Only because darkness falls suddenly at 5:30 pm. The construction team begins very early, before the medical team, which arrived for the second mass at 7 am.

During the Sunday sermon Father Daniel Couture, District Superior of Asia, explained mercy from an anecdote: a pagan dying on an Indian sidewalk is picked up and cared for by a holy nun. The dying man asks her, “Is your Jesus as good as you are?” She answers with a smile, “No, I try to be as good as He is.”

Even if the help brought by the mission is only a drop in the bucket, it has a real impact on the Filipinos; they feel encouraged to continue fighting adversity. The banners tell us so: “Adversity has given us courage,” “Your generosity has helped us back to our feet,” “Thank you to everyone.” Rosa Mystica has been running as a mission for eight years, but “we have never had so many expressions of gratitude, each one as moving as the last,” said Dr. Jean-Pierre Dickes.

Filipinos, with their kindness, their smiles, their lightheartedness are still able to take pleasure in little details amid their sufferings, in a small gesture of affection, a little word of friendship. Of themselves these people have kept the Christian sense of helping one another, which is admirable considering the dramatic circumstances in which they live.

“When we went through customs in Iloilo,” said Dr. Dickes, “the border guard, a 55-year old lady, was asking arrivals for their reason for coming to the country. I explained to her that we had a regular medical mission; every year we came to a different area, and because of the circumstances, this year we were going to Tacloban, the city that suffered most. She immediately waved our group through without further questions, with a big smile. I thanked her, and she told me, “God bless you! I will pray for you.”

To help the SSPX mission in the Philippines:
-please make cheques out to the order of “ACIM”, with a note “for victims of the typhoon”, and send to Dr. JeanPierre Dickès, 2 route d’Equilhen, 62360 Saint-Etienne au Mont, France (tax receipt available upon request).
-or to the order of “MISSIONS”, with a note “Philippines” and mail it to MISSIONS, 60 avenue du Général Leclerc, 78230 Le Pecq, France (tax receipt available upon request).

IBAN: FR76 3000 3018 6000 0372 7114 114 -  BIC: SOGEFRPP

(Source: ACIM – DICI no. 289, 31/01/14)

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