Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

The Peace and All Good Column
Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., is the seventh Archbishop of Atlanta. In his award-winning column “Peace and All Good,” he shares homilies and pastoral reflections.

A Journey of Hope to the Philippines

By ARCHBISHOP GREGORY J. HARTMAYER, OFM Conv. | Published March 22, 2024  | En Español

Peace and All Good! I hope and pray that you are having a fruitful Lent. In his message for Lent, Pope Francis encouraged us to have a contemplative spirit during the season so that we might grow in our love of God and neighbor.   

He wrote, “In the presence of God, we become brothers and sisters, more sensitive to one another: in place of threats and enemies, we discover companions and fellow travelers.” I was struck by these words, as I traveled to the Philippines on March 1 with Catholic Relief Services (CRS). This was my third trip with CRS since I became a board member in 2022. 

In its mission statement, CRS speaks about “walking side by side with people in need, as one human family.” Not only does CRS provide emergency relief in times of tragedy and natural disasters, but it also partners with other organizations and works with local people in creating sustainable projects, which will improve the quality of life. We can take pride in the work of CRS, with 8,000 people working in 120 countries around the world. For more than 80 years, CRS has embraced the Gospel mandate of Matthew 25:40: “whatever you did for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me.”   

Following Mass at the church of St. Padre Pio in the Philippines, people surround Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer to ask for blessings. The archbishop visited the country in early March to monitor the work of Catholic Relief Services in helping families recover from Typhoon Yolanda. Photo Courtesy of Archbishop Hartmayer

My recent trip to the Philippines was called “Journey of Hope.” We were welcomed at the airport in Manila by our CRS hosts. Every day began with holy Mass. Not only did we learn about the work of CRS and its collaboration with other charitable agencies such as Caritas Philippines, but we also witnessed firsthand the many projects and initiatives seeking to better the lives of the Filipino people.  

It was a great joy to meet the people who are benefiting from the work of these international agencies. One of the places we visited was Tacloban on Letye Island in the Eastern Visayas region of the Philippines. On Nov. 8, 2013, Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) made landfall crashing into Tacloban with nearly 200 mile-per-hour winds and waves strong enough to slam massive ships on top of buildings. Many towns and cities experienced widespread destruction, with as much as 90 percent of housing destroyed in some areas. The aftermath of the typhoon underscored the importance of disaster preparedness, response coordination and ongoing support to foster resilience in the face of nature’s impact.  

The Philippines embarked on a path of recovery and rebuilding with CRS serving as an important part of this effort. Our group visited DREAMville, a resettlement project of CRS. Over 800 families moved into typhoon and earthquake-resistant homes equipped with water, electricity, a multi-purpose center, markets, parks and schools.  

Faith and resilience 

There is a beautiful Catholic church in the center of the town, named in honor of the Capuchin stigmatist and mystic, St. Padre Pio. We had Mass in the church for the whole town. Like all of the Masses with the Filipino communities, this was a true celebration of faith. It reminded me of the celebrations that we had in the Archdiocese of Atlanta a few years ago when we celebrated the 500th anniversary of Christianity in the Philippines. I recall the words of the Holy Father: “Five hundred years have passed since the Christian message first arrived in the Philippines. You received the joy of the Gospel: the good news that God so loved us that he gave his Son for us. And this joy is evident in your people. We see it in your eyes, on your faces, in your songs and in your prayers. In the joy with which you bring your faith to other lands.”   

What a wonderful opportunity for me to see the Pope’s words in action. As we visited with the people of DREAMville, we heard not only about homes and schools, as well as business constructed after the deadly typhoon, but also about lives rebuilt. We witnessed the faith, heroic strength and resilience demonstrated by so many Filipinos in the face of natural disasters and catastrophes. To this day, Super Typhoon Haiyan remains one of the deadliest natural disasters in the history of the Philippines. More than 6,000 people were killed and 4.1 million displaced. 

I returned to Atlanta with a renewed appreciation for the work of Catholic Relief Services and its impact on the lives of so many people throughout the world. I was blessed to have companions and fellow travelers on this Journey of Hope.  

Working as an ambassador for CRS is life changing, and certainly makes me more grateful for what I have been given and encourages me to want to give more to others. In the words of St. Teresa of Avila: “Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes with which he looks with compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.”   

As we approach Holy Week and the celebration of Easter, may we draw ever closer to the Lord Jesus in his great sacrifice of love and let us always remember his words, “whatever you did for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me.”