Amid hurricane's devastation, Puerto Ricans' spirit seen shining through

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Wallice J. de la Vega

JUAN, Puerto Rico (CNS) — Above all material and financial considerations
after Hurricane Maria’s severe damage in Puerto Rico, one must highlight the
brotherly spirit shown by the island’s people during the ongoing recovery
period, said the island’s top Catholic pastor.

the church’s financial burden has obviously become heavier as it strives to
meet the increased emergency material needs of the faithful, it is the people’s
“huge capability for solidarity” that shines through in this
disaster, Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves of San Juan told Catholic News
Service Oct. 25.

are so many helping gestures, like people who don’t know each other but share
‘our daily bread,’ and neighbors sitting down in the dark out on the street
chatting,” said Archbishop Gonzalez.

to slow government response to Hurricane Maria’s victims in Puerto Rico, there
has been an increase in church and neighborhood or town groups banding together to clear remote unpaved roads, remove fallen trees and debris, and
provide material aid to the neediest.

are giving lessons of what is the essence of how to live,” said the
archbishop. “There’s a very strong resiliency and spiritual capacity that
we have seen in our people. College youngsters have taken to the streets to
remove debris. … These are touching and impressive moments we are

of those youngsters come from San Ignacio Catholic High School in San Juan.
Father Andres Vall Serra, the Jesuit school’s pastoral director, told CNS that
the school has a special project to immerse students in
providing aid to the poor. It is a class titled “Magis,” which basically means
universal good, or “what can one do to reach the good of all,” based
on the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits.

Friday, all students from one grade’s class are sent out to distribute filtration
systems and food to poor communities,” said Father Andres. “It’s a
moment that allows them to encounter Christ, but in a way that helps transform

charity project has a grade-specific mental health counseling component, aimed
to help students cope with the stress brought on by Hurricane Maria’s effects.

Carrillo, a senior at San Ignacio, spoke about how a Catholic-oriented
education has helped prepare him for disasters such as hurricanes, noting “the
emphasis on community impact and internal growth as a person. I mean being
compassionate (in order) to recognize the worlds needs and how to react to
situations like this one.”

school has focused us on its Jesuit motto, ‘Men at the service of
others,'” said senior Ricardo Sanchez. “It was here, in seventh
grade, where I started going out to help communities in need.”

Ignacio reopened Oct. 3, the first Catholic school to do so in Puerto Rico
after Hurricane Maria, said Father Andres. It was moderately damaged, mostly by
falling trees. Its basement amphitheater and several storage units underground
were flooded.

are at time of national mourning, trauma, after the passing of two hurricanes
… the consequences on the mood, the spirit, the emotions (of the people) are
deep,” said Archbishop Gonzalez, adding that “another trauma is that
of shared love and solidarity.”

agreed with several pastors who had told CNS that, after Hurricane Maria hit
Puerto Rico, Mass attendance has risen sharply, although many still could not
leave their homes because of the damage. “But yes, there’s a spiritual
rebirth,” he said.

finances have been severely impacted in Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria. As
businesses and factories shut down, families’ economic stability has been
affected while their financial demands have increased to cover repairs and
replacement of lost property.

can neither ask nor expect that they continue the same level of support (to the
church) when they themselves are barely surviving,” said Archbishop
Gonzalez. “In time, we have to see how we deal with sustaining parishes
that can’t sustain themselves, as well as our (television) Channel 13 and radio

the archbishop stressed that “our focus now is direct assistance. Most
people need water, food, clothing. That’s our primary mission.”

top challenge the church in Puerto Rico faces is to nurture the soul our people
with God’s word, Jesus’ presence through our works of charity, solidarity,
celebrating the Eucharist, and maintaining a perspective that keeps us anchored
in reality of these tragic events and full of hope for the strength that the Holy
Spirit gives us,” said Archbishop Gonzalez.

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