The Catholic Church Responds to the Natural Disasters Domestically and Abroad

 

by Cristina Villalonga-Vivoni

 

On Sunday morning after a hurricane made landfall in Texas, Father David Bergeron of the Catholic Charismatic Center navigated his kayak through the flooded streets. Why? To lead Mass and rescue survivors.

 

Father David’s traveling Mass is just one of many examples of the Church’s response to the myriad of natural disasters that has devastated the United States, the Caribbean, and Mexico. As the world continues to respond to the destruction, the Catholic Church has played a crucial role in the relief effort.

In late August, Hurricane Harvey ripped through the gulf coast of Texas, killing at least 60 people and displacing 30,000. In the most affected areas, the Church has done her part to bring hope and aid to the victims. Local Knights of Columbus members have rescued survivors by boat and have provided shelter, food, and water. In addition, Archbishop José H. Gómez of Los Angeles called on bishops to take up a collection to support the victims and to rebuild impacted dioceses. Meanwhile, Catholic Charities USA has been working tirelessly to bring relief to the victims in the disaster area. The Church’s humanitarian work is supplemented by her words of hope and faith. Even though many victims “wonder how much calamity fits into God’s plan,” Church leaders continue to lead people in united prayer and encourage them to hold steadfast in their faith. As Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the diocese in Galveston-Houston says, “with the grace of God, we will run the race before us with energy and joy…we will win.”

 

A few weeks later Hurricane Irma made landfall in the Caribbean as a category five and in the west coast of Florida as a category four. One of the most iconic symbols of the “do-it-yourself” initiative in the aftermath of the hurricane came from the Catholic Church. The morning after the hurricane, Sister Margaret Ann, the principal of the Archbishop Coleman F. Carroll High School in Miami, took a chainsaw to downed branches on school property. A video of Sister Margaret clearing the branches went viral on social media, dubbing her with the title of the “Nun Wielding a Chainsaw”. In an interview with the New York Times, she explains, “if you can do something, do it. Don’t wait for someone else to do it.” Similarly, Father Fritz Bellonce of the Holy Family Church in North Miami knew that people would turn to the Church for aid and hope. Before the hurricane made landfall, Father Fritz purchased 200 pounds of rice, beans, pork, chicken, and turkey to cook hot meals for the victims. This welcome luxury raised the spirits of those affected and reflected the Church’s commitment to humanitarian aid.

 

The final major hurricane was Hurricane Maria. This category four/five hurricane ripped through the already devastated islands of the Caribbean between September 19th-20th. As of September 22nd, approximately 32 people have been killed by the storm. Although it is still too early to accurately scale the extent of the damage, the Church will become a crucial leader for the physical and psychological recovery of the islands. The repeated natural disasters have scarred the survivors; it will become the Church’s duty to remind the people of God’s presence in these disasters.

 

Meanwhile in Mexico, two earthquakes have rocked the nation’s capital city. The first one took place on September 7th with a magnitude of 8.1 and killed about 90 people. Twelve days later, a 7.1 magnitude quake struck the province of Pueblo, killing over 300 people. Aftershocks continue to ravage the country. The citizens of Mexico City and members of the Catholic Church have responded in acts of solidarity as they rescue trapped people. “Thousands of hands have formed chains of life to rescue, feed, or do their small part in the face of these emergencies,” said the Archbishop of Mexico City, Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, who has called on parishes in impact zones to show Christian solidarity by assisting survivors. In addition, the Church’s aid organizations, such as Caritas Mexico and Catholic Relief Services, have worked tirelessly to bring aid to the most vulnerable. By opening collection centers and helping distribute shelter materials, these organizations are bringing back hope to the Mexican people. Carrera stated, “Everyone’s prayers will allow more survivors to get out of those buildings, solidarity will bring hope back against to our already suffering Mexico. We will shine again, very soon.”  

 

With each act of solidarity, the Catholic Church has strengthened the resolve of victims. As Father Reyes, a priest based in Puerto Rico, said, “we can learn a lot from these experiences, that we have to find the good among the bad. In the middle of all of this, faith strengthens us.”

 

If you would like to donate to the relief funds:

Unidos por Puerto Rico for the rebuilding of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria: http://unidosporpuertorico.com/en/

Catholic Relief Services for the Mexico Quake: https://www.crs.org

Hurricane Harvey Relief Funds: https://ghcf.org/hurricane-relief/

Catholic Charities USA Hurricane Relief: https://catholiccharitiesusa.org

All Hands Volunteer for US Hurricane Relief: https://www.hands.org

 

In addition, Charity Navigator has compiled a list of charities that are directly donating to natural disaster relief.  

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