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Filipino priest flies back home, after his town is destroyed by typhoon

2013-11-13

Fr. Erwin Balagapo is from Tacloban. That's a coastal Filipino city that was basically destroyed  by the deadly typhoon. 

He now lives in Rome, at the Pontifical Filipino College, where he's finishing up his ecclesiastical studies. But the books will have to wait. He has decided to return to his native Philippines. In fact for days,  Fr. Erwin didn't know whether his family was dead or alive. 

FR. ERWIN BALAGAPO
"Before the typhoon struck, I spoke with my family, specifically with my sister. My parents were also there, the night before the storm hit. They said, 'it's sunny and calm right now, but we're prepared.”

Arriving to the disaster areas isn't easy. The nearest airport to the city was damaged and all communications lines are down.

FR. ERWIN BALAGAPO
"I have my congregation and my parents on my mind. So right away, I looked for ways to get in touch with them. I called my archbishop, I called the priests who are there. I also saw on the Internet a photo of one of my colleagues at the seminary. They're searching for him. Now, I've spent five days without any news from them. Of course, I pray so that they're OK. But with 10,000 people dead... ”

His plan is to fly out to Manila. Once there, he will get in touch with a soldier, who will allow him to board one of many military planes headed to the area to help out. 

They've also told him to have his stole handy, since he will likely be busy.

FR. ERWIN BALAGAPO
"They told me that if people see a priest, they will ask for blessings. I can imagine the type of help that as a priest I can provide. I'm scared. I don't know what awaits me there, in my home. But I hope to see my parents. I'm picturing now my mother's face, my father's, my sister who was here, and my brother, who's in Bohol helping. Then there's my nephew.. But in the end, it's in God's hands, right? It may not be easy to say it, but it is the Year of Faith, after all, right?”

Fortunately for Fr. Erwin, his search for answers ended just hours before he flew out. At 5 a.m. on Wednesday, his brother called. Their conversation was just 25 seconds long, since the  call dropped. But he managed to hear that his parents are OK. At ease, and more hopeful, he's still plans to head out to the Philippines.

The priest said that when things start getting back to normal in his hometown, he'll consider returning to Rome. But for now, he's headed where he's needed most.


JRB/RCA
AA / Caritas Manila
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