Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos continue to suffer deprivation, "just like Jesus and his parents, struggling to survive in the rubble caused by the worst typhoon that ever hit the Philippines. It will be a difficult Christmas, marked by hunger and suffering for the refugees camped under makeshift tents or plastic sheeting." So said Fr. Shay Cullen, a Catholic priest from Ireland who is the founder of PREDA.org - a nonprofit that is dedicated to the welfare of children. Known for his commitment to the people of The Philippines, Fr. Cullen has been in-country since 1969.
Typhoon Hayian, which struck the island nation on November 8, was especially devastating in Leyte province. Some 5,000 people died as a direct result of the storm that left thousands homeless and impoverished. Said Fr. Cullen, "In addition to wind, rain and devastation, now comes another storm: that of human exploitation and trafficking of children, who are in the sights of unscrupulous traffickers," said the Irish missionary. On a recent visit to The Philippines, Secretary of State John Kerry pledged that the U.S. would provide an additional $25 million in aid. The cost of reconstruction is expected to exceed $8.2 billion.
Fr. Cullen is leading a rescue team in Leyte. He is especially concerned about criminals who are abducting children for the international sex trade. "You can see posters showing photos of children between 3 to 15 years of age who have mysteriously disappeared, probably kidnapped and sold. Five children have been rescued by social workers: they had been lured by traffickers. These were foreigners who said they wanted to bring them in Manila: it was probably for the purpose of sexual exploitation", said the priest.
"More than one million children are victims of prostitution and sexual exploitation, and will spend a terrible Christmas in the Philippines", continued Fr. Cullen. It is especially at Christmastide that he feels it is necessary to proclaim "the human rights of the poor and oppressed, the hungry."
"Christmas is a symbol of life and friendship. It is a time to strengthen our spiritual values, reflecting on the mystery of life, renewing our faith and finding our strength to act to save the exploited, the abused and those who are hungry."