Catholic organizations, groups actively working on Puerto Rico's recovery

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Wallice J. de la Vega

Puerto Rico (CNS) — A month after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico,
Catholic organizations, groups and individuals were still among the most
prominent responders to the needs of a suffering people.

early logistical obstacles, as of Oct. 20, the local Caritas chapter had
disbursed over $1.1 million in aid to an estimated 50,000 people — including
food, clothing, first aid supplies, potable water and sundries. At its San Juan
office, hot lunches also were being distributed daily to members of the

had to blindly design a response plan,” Father Enrique “Kike”
Camacho, executive director of Caritas Puerto Rico, told Catholic News Service
Oct. 19. “But after communications opened somewhat, we began improving the
plan based on diocesan reports. Today, we have a well-coordinated relief system
at Puerto Rico’s 500 parishes in all six dioceses.”

has been closely working with Catholic Charities USA on Puerto Rico’s recovery
since Hurricane Irma brushed the island’s northern coast two weeks before Maria
followed Sept. 20.

Burgo, senior director of disaster operations for Catholic Charities, told CNS:
“One of our biggest challenges is money because there were two other
hurricanes before … but then Maria comes along, which in many ways was worse
than Harvey and Irma, and people have donor fatigue and it is very difficult to
get donations for Puerto Rico. The need here is so much greater, yet the
financial resources are so much less.”

Rico’s post-hurricane recovery efforts have been largely a grass-roots impulse,
mainly spearheaded by newly formed young adult movements and religious groups
that have become an alternative to slow, complex and bureaucratic government
procedures. Most of these groups, local and coming from the U.S., include

Riolo, a Catholic volunteer with the Canadian relief foundation Impact Nations,
came to Quebradillas, a town of 25,000 residents in northwest Puerto
Rico, with a team of four to help distribute 300 portable water filters around
isolated homes deep in the mountains. Riolo is a retired schoolteacher and a 30-year
missionary veteran who is a member of the Sangre de Cristo Parish in
Albuquerque, New Mexico. This was her first disaster-related mission.

the devastation … when you see this, no electricity, families living with no
water to bathe in, it’s hard and they are traumatized,” Riolo told CNS
while distributing the water filters around Quebradilla’s Guajataca sector Oct.
21. “When you come into someone’s house, they don’t forget that, and when
you tell them, ‘God thinks about you so much that he sent us … and there’s a
whole lot of people in my town thinking about you,’ they don’t forget that..”

about what drives her to do missionary work, Riolo simply answered: “We
are the hands and feet of Jesus.”

Daniel Fernandez of Arecibo touched on that exact sentiment from Riolo at a
Mass at St. Raphael the Archangel Church in Quebradillas Oct. 22, World Mission

Father sent his son into the world — mission means to send,” said Bishop
Fernandez during his homily. “If sending means mission or mission means
send, then Jesus was the first missionary.”

as the church cannot avoid been missionary, the bishop said, neither can
Catholics avoid it. Therefore, he said, offering witness of our faith has to be
practiced with good deeds “in times of hurricanes like this one.”

in the inner mountain regions of Puerto Rico have fared the worst after
Hurricane Maria. Not only have their congregations’ financial support
diminished due to massive unemployment, but also federal and local government
support is not being received in their towns. Many parishes, like St. Raphael
the Archangel, are holding ongoing relief collections for them.

Mass, Bishop Fernandez told CNS the Diocese of Arecibo is distributing all aid
coming from Caritas directly to its 59 parishes. His diocese and the Diocese of
Mayaguez are the most damaged of the dioceses. The island has one archdiocese,
San Juan, and five dioceses.

perceiving much unity and even calm within the faithful,” said Bishop
Fernandez. “However, (the priests and I) are attentive because we know that as
time passes and, if the situation doesn’t improve at an adequate pace,
tolerance levels might diminish as the physical exhaustion rises.”

after Hurricane Maria, one of the most destructive in Puerto Rico’s history,
has been slow. Official reliable statistics about hurricane damage, including
an accurate death toll, have been scarce and widely debated by experts.

latest government timetable for recovery announced Oct. 19 says 90 percent of
the island will have its electric power normalized by Dec. 15. That recovery
plan is said to yield a totally new and diversified power grid that would bring
back hydroelectric systems and add solar power components.

a Catholic people, Puerto Ricans feel the church tends to be the most
trustworthy source of relief in disaster conditions. For Father Kike, that
represents one of the church’s most important challenges.

me the greatest challenge in these situations is to meet our people’s expectations”
he said. “They expect a lot from the church because they trust it, and
there’s pressure on us. It’s a high standard and we cannot fail.”

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