When Bishop Eusebio Ramos Morales of Caguas, Puerto Rico, after surviving the devastating destruction of Hurricane Maria, finally reached a functioning land line at one of his parishes, the first phone call he made was to Catholic Extension. He reached Joe Boland, Catholic Extension’s vice president of mission and described the island as being in a total state of chaos. He said that the church is paralyzed due to the inability to travel or communicate. He reached out, hoping that Catholic Extension could help in some way.
Today Catholic Extension released a total of $350,000 in immediate emergency assistance to the Puerto Rican and Virgin Islands dioceses.
We also started a campaign to appeal for additional hurricane support from its donors. Click here to make a donation and your gift will be matched dollar for dollar by some of our generous longtime donors.
Catholic Extension is providing emergency assistance funding to the six dioceses of Puerto Rico as well as the Diocese of St Thomas in the Virgin Islands. We are also preparing to work with the Diocese of Beaumont, Texas, to help that diocese rebuild and repair the 18 churches and schools that were damaged by floods.
“Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria have wreaked havoc in multiple mission dioceses during the past few weeks,” Boland said. “Unfortunately, many of these dioceses are among the poorest of our mission dioceses. The situations are especially dire in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, where we have received calls for immediate help. The situation in Beaumont, Texas is more stable, and that diocese is only asking us for future help to repair and rebuild flooded church properties.”
“There are multiple efforts underway to help provide relief to the Caribbean islands,” Boland said. “None of these, to our knowledge, will provide assistance directly to our bishops to get their diocesan efforts restarted.”
Cardinal Blase Cupich, archbishop of Chicago and chancellor of Catholic Extension, released a statement in support of our hurricane relief efforts.
"Catholic Extension is once again stepping forward to assist Catholic Churches in need, continuing its century-long mission of building faith, inspiring hope and igniting change. Chicagoans once again have a reason to be proud that Catholic Extension has its roots here."
One week after Hurricane Maria carved a path of destruction that has apparently spared no one on the island of Puerto Rico, Catholic Extension has just now begun to receive contact from the six mission dioceses there. The messages we’ve received are brief, and the details are still scarce, but the cry for help is loud.
It is extraordinarily difficult for the Puerto Rican bishops and diocesan leaders to communicate with us, because provisional cell phone towers are only located in certain places and only function during certain hours. It is even hard for them to communicate with one another because many roads are still blocked or ripped up due to mudslides, and gasoline is nearly impossible to procure. For this reason, none of the dioceses know the extent of their property damage at this point.
In addition to the phone call from Bishop Ramos, Catholic Extension also received a September 25 email sent from San Juan Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez’s staff to Catholic Extension at his request. Its subject line read, “WE WILL RISE!” and it asked for help to “lift our diocesan infrastructure and [support] the parishes with the biggest damage.”
The email from the archdiocese said, “As soon as there is more gasoline available and the roads are cleared from debris, we will be able to see all of the damage firsthand. Our biggest challenge right now that is stopping us from assessing all of the damage is the issue of communication systems.”
The Puerto Rican dioceses are facing two immediately pressing issues. The first is getting the church up and running again without having any sources of income for the foreseeable future—paying staff, keeping the lights on, and maintaining operations. The second is dealing with the humanitarian crisis that is ensuing and requires the church’s help in feeding and sheltering people. In many dioceses, the local Catholic church is the main source of humanitarian help.
Catholic Extension will also help with the rebuilding and repairing of churches destroyed or damaged by Hurricane Maria, but that will be a priority down the road.
U.S. Virgin Islands
The situation in Puerto Rico is comparable to what Catholic Extension heard from Bishop Herbert A. Bevard of St. Thomas after Hurricane Irma ripped through the Virgin Islands on September 6. Bishop Bevard said it looked like St. Thomas had been bombed out. The bishop had been unable to even communicate with some of the parishes on other islands, but knew that St. John had taken an even more direct hit. He did not fully know yet what level of damage diocesan properties had sustained in the storm. He said he was not concerned about church buildings at that point, but rather with responding to the humanitarian crisis unfolding on the island by funding the church’s effort to feed and shelter people. In response to Hurricane Irma, Catholic Extension sent $25,000 of immediate assistance to the Diocese of St. Thomas.
Subsequent to Catholic Extension’s last contact with Bishop Bevard, Hurricane Maria hit the only island that had not been touched by Irma (St. Croix), meaning that the bishop is likely grappling with a new round of hurricane emergencies. We have not had any more updates from the Virgin Islands, as the bishop’s phone service is not currently working.
Catholic Extension has been supporting the U.S. Virgin Islands since 1964. One of the island’s past shepherds was Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston. At a Catholic Extension bishops’ meeting last year, he reflected on his time in the Virgin Islands in the wake of Hurricane Hugo. Electricity was out for six months, and communications out for a year. He discussed how critical Catholic Extension’s support was at the time in helping them get their diocese back on its feet.
The situation on the Caribbean islands is different from that of the Diocese of Beaumont in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Bishop Curtis Guillory has been in regular contact with Catholic Extension. He does not require immediate assistance from Catholic Extension because of the robust presence of volunteers, church organizations, nonprofits and government agencies handling relief work in Texas. Instead he asked Catholic Extension to help him down the road as the diocese rebuilds and repairs the 18 churches and schools that were damaged in the floods.