When tragedy hits, ‘Be there with the people’

Cubans pick up the pieces following the damage and havoc caused by Hurricane Matthew in Baracoa, Cuba, Oct. 6.

Cubans pick up the pieces following the damage and havoc caused by Hurricane Matthew in Baracoa, Cuba, Oct. 6. (CNS photo/Alejandro Ernesto/EPA)

What’s a bishop to do?

Even as the death toll from Hurricane Matthew in Haiti was climbing toward 800 in early October, the storm was hitting eastern Cuba as a Category 4 hurricane, with sustained winds of 130 miles per hour.

Days after the hurricane hit, Bishop Wilfredo Pino Estevez of Guantanamo-Baracoa spoke of the damage he saw: chaos, trees without leaves, houses without roofs. “All this horror was experienced in few hours, in the night of Oct. 4,” he said.

In a translation just obtained by Catholic News Service, the bishop spoke of what he asked his priests and nuns to do in the days after the hurricane:

A woman stands in a street near damaged homes Oct. 5 after Hurricane Matthew swept through Baracoa, Cuba. (CNS photo/Alejandro Ernesto, EPA)

A woman stands in a street near damaged homes Oct. 5 after Hurricane Matthew swept through Baracoa, Cuba. (CNS photo/Alejandro Ernesto, EPA)

— Be there with the people right where they are. To wipe away their tears. Raise their spirits. Give them some hope. Do what the apostles did and said: “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you.” (Acts 3:6)

— Give food to those who are hungry. By the way, yesterday, we picked up a man who was walking along the road looking for his family, and he confessed that he had not eaten anything or slept for two days. Fortunately, Caritas-Guantanamo staffers … are taking care of this case.

— The coordinators of every community had to make a list with the names of the persons that need help. There is a truck from the diocese transporting … all the donations: crackers, rice, beans, cooking oil, sardines, sausages, soaps, candles, detergent, matches, etc.

— Invite everyone to pray, like Moses did …. You can suggest any initiative about it. To say the rosary to the Virgin, consolation of the upset people, it could comfort in all these days.

— Don’t stop celebrating the Sunday Mass, especially in those places where the churches collapsed. I recommended to put away the rubble and use a table as a temporary altar and invite the faithful to bring an umbrella or something to cover their head for the sun or if it rains. We have to be clear on something that you all know: The building was destroyed but not the church.

He also spoke of things that gave him hope: Catholics and Protestants praying together; people looking at the bright side of things:

— The example of a motorcycle driver who was carrying a passenger. When the passenger tried to pay, the driver refused to accept the money. He did not want to take advantage of the situation of the disaster or the misfortunes of the others.

— When a convoy of utility workers from other provinces passed by … the chief of the electricians said, “Bishop, pray for us (because) we are working with electric current.”

Things are returning to normal now, but various Catholic groups are helping with recovery. You can find them here.

Cubans pick up the pieces following the damage and havoc caused by Hurricane Matthew in Baracoa, Cuba, Oct. 6. (CNS/Alexandre Meneghini, Reuters)

Cubans pick up the pieces following the damage and havoc caused by Hurricane Matthew in Baracoa, Cuba, Oct. 6. (CNS photo/Alexandre Meneghini, Reuters)


New England Catholics: ‘Exercise prudence’ going to Mass

The Boston Archdiocese issued a statement Feb. 8 — long before snowflakes in the predicted blizzard started falling — urging Catholics to “exercise prudence” in attending Sunday Mass this weekend.

Boston pedestrian in snow Feb. 8 (CNS photo by Reuters)

Boston pedestrian in snow Feb. 8 (CNS photo by Reuters)

The statement advised Catholics to heed the travel advisories of their cities and towns and to stay off the roads during the peak hours of the storm and plow operation.

It noted that the bulk of the storm would take place Feb. 8-9 and that by Feb. 10 the roads might be clear.

In the event that roads are not clear, it stressed: “The faithful are reminded that the obligation to attend Sunday Mass does not apply when there is grave difficulty in fulfilling this obligation,” according to canon law.

The Diocese of Providence, R.I., issued a similar statement telling Catholics they should “carefully heed the safety directives of state and local officials.”

It likewise urged Catholics to “use prudence and extreme caution,” stressing that in conditions which are “extremely difficult or dangerous,” Catholics are “dispensed from the normal obligation.”

The blizzard, dubbed Winter Storm Nemo, was expected to dump heavy snow and bring hurricane-force winds to parts of the Northeast starting the afternoon of Feb. 8 and continuing through the next day.

Dioceses follow government’s lead, hunker down for Sandy

Rising water at New York’s Battery Park. (CNS photo/Reuters)

WASHINGTON (CNS) -– Dioceses along the East Coast followed the lead of federal, state and local governments in shutting operations Oct. 29, the day Hurricane Sandy was expected to make landfall, with New Jersey expected to be in the center of the huge storm.

Catholic Charities USA was working with its local affiliates along the East Coast on how to get necessary supplies and services to the affiliates once the storm passes.

“Reports from the National Weather Service make it clear that many of our agencies on the East Coast — from New York all the way down to Florida — will be feeling some impact from Hurricane Sandy and we stand ready to provide whatever support necessary to meet the needs of those affected,” said a statement from Samuel Chambers, Catholic Charities senior vice president of disaster operations.

“Since Hurricane Katrina, we have focused on being prepared for future disasters,” said a statement from Catholic Charities president Father Larry Snyder. “Not only are we early responders, but our presence in the community also puts us in a position to be able to quickly assess and provide support in the long term.”

Dioceses heeded the advice of governors and big-city mayors, who had declared a state of emergency in their respective jurisdictions, and shut down for at least one day with the possibility of extending their shutdown longer.

The Archdiocese of New York closed Oct. 29 “due to the decision by the MTA to suspend public transportation as a result of Hurricane Sandy,” said a statement on the archdiocesan website. The MTA is the Metropolitan Transit Authority; New York’s subway system shut down the day before. As for the possibility of continued closing, the statement added, “We will be guided by the decisions of the governor, mayor and MTA.”

The Diocese of Camden, N.J., which takes in southernmost New Jersey, announced it would be closed both Oct. 29 and 30. “There’s some kind of meeting in Atlantic City on Wednesday (Oct. 31); that’s not going to happen, Peter Feuerherd, diocesan director of communications, told Catholic News Service.

“The storm is coming, apparently, right over Atlantic City,” which is in the Camden Diocese, Feuerherd added. “Our parishes are all along the shore from Atlantic City down, all the way to Cape May,” he said. “Those beach communities are going to be hit hard. The governor (Chris Christie) has already evacuated those beach communities, (but) I’m not actually there and I can’t tell you whether people have actually taken the advice to get out.”

The Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., had already decided by late morning Oct. 29 to be closed Oct. 30 as well, according to Jim Goodness, the director of communications for the archdiocese.

“All of the schools of the archdiocese have been following the leads of the state,” Goodness said. “Parishes can certainly handle themselves.”

Still, “we’d certainly worry. We had several parishes that went underwater last year” from the rains of Hurricane Irene after it was downgraded to a tropical storm, Goodness told CNS. “Working with our property management people to mitigate (bad effects), however, they can hope that things can work out better this time than they last time.”

Since the worst of the storm wasn’t expected to come until sundown Oct. 29, diocesan representatives said it would be hard to assess any negative impact of Sandy until afterward.

The Diocese of Paterson, N.J., was also closing Oct. 29-30. Accompanying the Oct. 29 announcement on the diocesan website was a map showing Sandy’s path. New Jersey was the only state in all white while other states had at least a little green.

President Barack Obama returned to the White House from an Oct. 29 campaign event in Florida, and canceled a campaign event in Wisconsin to monitor the storm and be briefed on federal emergency preparedness activities.

Asked whether Sandy would have an impact on the Nov. 6 election, Obama replied: ”The election will take care of itself next week. Right now, our number-one priority is to make sure that we are saving lives, that our search-and-rescue teams are going to be in place, that people are going to get the food, the water, the shelter that they need in case of emergency, and that we respond as quickly as possible to get the economy back on track.”