published Saturday, December 14th, 2013

Cooper: Pastor speeds aid to Filipinos

The Rev. Alberto Sescon, pastor of St. Therese of Lisieux Catholic Church in Cleveland, Tenn., is funneling money.

He even admits it.

Whatever cash he is given as a Christmas gift, Sescon says, is going to his sister in the Philippines to help her and her poor neighbors recover from the devastation wreaked by Typhoon Haiyan in the island archipelago.

“A lot of people are left unhelped,” he says.

The Nov. 8 typhoon left nearly 6,000 people dead and almost 1,800 people missing. In all, according to government figures, more than 12 million people were affected.

Among those, the Philippines native says, is his sister, Ester, her husband and their granddaughter, who live in Tacloban, the capital of central Leyte province and the city hardest hit by the typhoon.

Actually, Sescon says, his sister was luckier than most. Although he had to wait three days after the typhoon to find out, her family is fine and her house is still standing — the only one in her neighborhood. But nothing in it is usable.

Money he sent has helped clean the house, but he has recommended his sister temporarily move to another island.

“It stinks,” he says he’s been told about the house and area where she lives. Plus, Sescon says, E. coli has been found in the water, so it’s unsafe to drink.

Though money has poured in to help the country, he says, politics gets in the way of timely delivery. “The Filipino government is corrupt,” he says, and that slows down relief from international organizations.

“Sorry to tell you,” Sescon says, “but [politicians there] are wasting time blaming each other. It takes a long time before it reaches the people.”

An organization within his faith, Catholic Relief Services, is also receiving funds for assistance — a recent collection in the Diocese of Knoxville is going to it — but even it doesn’t get directly to the people.

“The first things they’re spending money for is the church,” Sescon says. “I’m pretty sure they will rebuild the church.”

So he gets money to his sister, who is connected with a church and already has had experience in the distribution of goods. She’ll make sure, he says, that the money is given to those who need it most now.

Sending a box of bottled water to the Philippines might cost $100, for instance, according to Sescon, and take a month to get there. But money given to his sister, he says, “is given to the poor now.” She knows “what the people need. It’s more practical. They need it very much.”

Shelter, according to Sescon, is the greatest need, but people who want to help rarely have the wherewithal to send enough to provide shelter. So, slippers (flip-flops), mosquito nets, flashlights and other lights have become among the most-needed items, he says. Additional cash might go to purchase clothing, medicine, gasoline and books, he says.

Many people “lost everything,” says Sescon, who became parochial administrator at St. Therese in July 2011, then pastor at the parish at St. Therese in April 2011.

Sescon, a priest of the Catholic Archdiocese of Cebu in the Philippines, says his heart goes out to his fellow countrymen.

“It’s a little better” now than in the immediate aftermath of the typhoon, he says, “but how hard it is [merely] to live.”

Contact Clint Cooper at ccooper@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to his posts online at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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