(CNS) -- Six months after Hurricane Maria wreaked unprecedented devastation on Puerto
Rico, the island is still suffering, and much of the relief and recovery help people
have received has come from Catholic parishes.
help those parishes continue "their spiritual and corporal works of mercy and
serve their communities," Catholic Extension in Chicago has launched a new
campaign called "Patrons of Puerto Rico."
Rican parishes have been so inspiring in their response to the recent
hurricanes," Catholic Extension said in a March 20 statement.
out of badly damaged buildings and celebrating Mass in temporary quarters,
parishes have rallied armies of volunteers to distribute relief supplies and provide
community and connection for the elderly and most vulnerable," it said.
Chicago-based papal society is inviting individual donors, parishes and church
groups to partner with it and "adopt" a parish. At its webpage
www.catholicextension.org/patron, an interactive map features examples of
Puerto Rico's Catholic communities helping their neighbors.
this time of crisis," Extension said, "parishes across the island have
exhausted themselves in providing material and spiritual comfort, while their
own financial sources have been greatly diminished by the increases in poverty
and unemployment and the slow progress toward recovery. The needs of Puerto
Rico's parishes are great, and they will require support over the next few
Extension raises and distributes funds to support U.S. mission dioceses, many
of which are rural, cover a large geographic area, and have limited personnel
and pastoral resources. In Puerto Rico, it has a 110-year history of supporting
parishes in the six dioceses there.
first church-building assistance was to the Archdiocese of San Juan in 1908.
Since then it has supported 1,400 construction and repair projects of church
buildings in Puerto Rico. Extension also has supported church leadership
development and ministry.
agency's staff saw firsthand some of what parishes and their parishioners are
going through during a Feb. 27-March 1 visit to Puerto Rico.
met with Father Jorge Morales, pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in the
northern Puerto Rican town of Vega Baja, and several of his parishioners. The
parish is in the Diocese of Arecibo.
couple of days after a direct hit from Hurricane Maria had devastated much of
Vega Baja and after the floodwaters had receded enough, Father Morales and some
of his parishioners were finally able to reach their historic church.
storm had ripped open the heavy doors, flooded the church, torn off the roof
and smashed the windows. It had been left in ruin and was unusable.
were heartbroken," said Miguel Rios, one of the parishioners. "This church is
like a second home to us."
Father Morales told them, "The church building is secondary. The important
thing is to take care of our neighbors. They need us now."
priest and his parishioners were the first to reach and bring food to the
hardest-hit neighborhoods of Los Naranjos and Sabana, where many people had
lost everything. They organized a coordinated effort to deliver food, water,
supplies -- and hope.
six weeks, they prepared and delivered about 200 warm meals each day. That work
continues six months after Hurricane Maria.
was incredible," Father Morales recalled. "I never asked for a single dollar of
donations to buy the food. But somehow every day, people who had very little
themselves gave us some of their money or brought food that we could cook."
priest said he was struck by a great sense of generosity in such crisis among
his parishioners, who are working-class and poor. Many have lost much
themselves but have reached out to those in worse shape.
Morales called it "an opportunity for us to rediscover our Christian vocation,
which is to go out and reach out to those in need and to proclaim the good news
with our witness of service and practice of charity and solidarity."
his parish celebrates Mass in a crammed room of the parish center. Buckets are
set up to catch the water dripping from the ceiling.
Lady of the Rosary, churches all across the island have been serving their
communities, despite their own problems in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
moments of great difficulty and challenge, you can see the power of faith
communities alive in people's hearts and lives," Father Jack Wall, president of
Catholic Extension, said during the Catholic Extension staff's visit to Puerto
come together in faith in moments of crisis to strengthen one another and to
realize that they are not alone," he added in March 1 statement. "They are
reaching out beyond themselves to become God's healing touch and healing care
for those in the communities around them. As faith communities,
we embody the spirit of God. We are one together."
communities have played a crucial role in delivering help, hope and healing to
people, underscoring their importance for the communities they serve,
particularly in remote and isolated areas.
island's Christians are clearly playing a central role in the recovery," noted The
Wall Street Journal in November. "Although many church buildings have been
damaged, the churches that remain are a haven for those in need."
to many news reports, government and relief agencies failed to reach many of
the more isolated, impoverished areas for weeks. In some places, residents note
that without the churches springing into action, relief efforts would have been
of March 20, power had been restored to 93 percent of the island, but about
121,000 residents were still in the dark; crews continued to work to restore
power in mountainous barrios, or neighborhoods. Three generators from the
Federal Emergency Management Agency are still providing power to the island's
town centers and business districts are shuttered in cities large and small,
signaling a massive loss of incomes and livelihoods. Collapsed buildings,
flooded homes and tarp-covered, roofless structures abound. Puerto Rico's
poverty rate is now at 52.7 percent; in some mountain areas, child poverty rates exceed 80
to Catholic Extension, without the help of Catholic churches: Many
helpless, elderly community members stranded in destroyed or damaged homes
would not have been sought out and cared for; many of the hundreds of thousands
of meals desperately needed in the first few weeks after Maria would not have
been prepared and distributed; and many people would not have had access
Hurricane Maria, Catholic Extension has provided and committed more than $1.1
million in support of the Catholic Church in Puerto Rico.
Extension said that donors' response to its fundraising appeals have helped all
the U.S. mission dioceses devastated by last year's hurricanes. In addition to Puerto
Rico's six dioceses, those include the Diocese of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin
Islands and the Diocese of Beaumont, Texas.