Why such a catastrophe?

Why such a catastrophe?

Super-typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines on November 8. It made its first landfall on a tiny island just off the coast of Samar. The storm then slammed Leyte and the islands of Biliran, Cebu, Negros, and Panay.  After the storm hit the Philippines, TV news and photos showed that this typhoon was a major human catastrophe, much stronger than hurricanes Sandy and Katrina.

Haiyan—called Yolanda in the Philippines—is said to be the strongest tropical storm ever to make landfall anywhere in the world, according to major news agencies. The death toll will be huge, more than 10,000 if initial estimates are accurate. The official count is more than 3,000 in Leyte already, and the number is expected to grow. Homes, schools, churches, roads, power lines, and shipping all suffered the consequences.

Haiyan created storm surges with massive, twenty-five-foot waves hitting island shorelines. Tacloban City, Leyte, is totally destroyed. I know the area because it is the capitol of Leyte Province, where I served as a missionary on Biliran Island. The news reports reminded me of the storms I experienced during my years working in the Philippines.

President Aquino called all Filipino citizens to assist the victims in true solidarity. But even with massive aid from abroad, it’s going to take months to restore infrastructure such as roads, power lines, and harbors. Before communications were completely severed, the government reported that more than 100,000 families had fled to shelters inland. The reports from Leyte indicate that more people would have evacuated if this warning had been called a “tsunami” instead of a “storm surge.”

Massive natural disasters always raise the same question: Why does God permit such human suffering? There really is no answer. People have their lives shattered and their faith tested. Others lose so much that they find it hard to carry on with any sense of hope. The scenes from the Philippines show the tragic loss of human life and the utter devastation after Haiyan.

Why does God permit such natural disasters and human suffering? Perhaps such calamities remind us that there are so many things that are beyond human control.

Such tragedies remind me of the words of the prophet Isaiah, who proclaimed consolation and liberation from exile while Israel suffered: “Grass withers and a blossom fades, but the word of God shall stand forever.” (Is 40:8) The Jews suffered so much devastation and death with the destruction of their land and their people during the Babylonian captivity. Isaiah saw it all in the context of God’s fidelity to the covenant. As we struggle to help the victims of natural disasters, can we see with the faith eyes of Isaiah?

Image: photoxpress/Stephen Finn


About the Author

Dan Kroger, O.F.M., a native of Cincinnati, joined the Franciscans in 1967 and was ordained in 1973. He taught high school and served in rural parishes in the Philippines. Dan earned a Ph.D. in Christian ethics at Notre Dame. He also taught at De La Salle University, Manila, until he was assigned to his present post as publisher/CEO at Franciscan Media in 2006.