Damage in Baracoa from Hurricane Matthew (Nuestra Voz Photo)
By Bishop Wilfredo Pino Estévez of Guantánamo-Baracoa
I cannot begin to describe the devastating hurricane that we experienced on October 4. Despite the horrific damage, we are grateful to the many concerned and busy people who are praying for us, who have pledged aid or who have already supported us.
On August 15, we had joyously gathered on the feast of Our Lady of the Assumption in Baracoa — the oldest city in Cuba — to honor its 505th birthday. Now that city is picking up the pieces from a Category 4 hurricane which has filled the city and surrounding areas with rubble and roofless houses!
The destruction has been great. Many palm and coconut trees have lost all their leaves, looking like white cigars standing upright in the mountains. Homes have been damaged or destroyed! Listening to the testimonies of the people, I thought of the Morning Prayer hymn that begins: “Night, chaos, terror ...” That's what many of our brothers and sisters lived through.
Although devastation is enormous, I thank God there are no fatalities. Luckily, people were evacuated or took refuge in caves, homes or the famous “rod in the ground" (I heard one of them had 32 refugees). It gave me joy to see how the new Seventh-Day Adventist Church on the road to Sabana, remained intact. Until recently it was of wood and had a weak ceiling but it had been rebuilt with bricks and a concrete ceiling. Several dozen people huddled there and were saved.
The morning after the hurricane, Chebita (a missionary in Imías), Mario the driver and I traveled to the affected communities of Baracoa, Imías, San Antonio, Cajobabo and Maisí. Along the way our car got stuck in roads littered with rocks and landslides, which were numerous.
In Baracoa we saw our church in Cabacú, dedicated to the Virgen del Carmen, flattened. The only thing left standing was a wall. Finally, I was able to enter its parish house at 1:30 am, almost 20 hours after leaving Guantanamo.
The next morning, seeing the extensive damage, I repeated what the faithful at Mass respond when the celebrant says: "Lift up your hearts." They replied, "We have them lifted up to the Lord." This was my deep desire: to raise my heart to God in order to later have strength to help those affected; so that they too could raise their hearts.
Of all the damaged municipalities, Maisí was the most destroyed. Although difficult to reach, we visited the communities of Savannah, Máquina, Yagruma and Punta de Maisí that were barely recognizable. The Venceremos (We Will Overcome) newspaper reports that 80 percent of the homes there have been affected.
Our Church’s mission now is to help the needy. We must locate vulnerable people who are ill, elderly and disabled to bring them encouragement and food: soup, rice, biscuits with guava. As we have learned, pain unites. People become more supportive. During the hurricane, Protestant and Catholic refugees gathered together for the first time to pray. This also happened with people who were estranged from each other.
After talking with priests and the mother superior of the Sisters of Baracoa, I have asked them to do several tasks during these days:
- Be with the people where they are. Collect their tears, lift their hearts, give them hope.
- Give food to the hungry. Yesterday we picked up a man who had gone two days without eating. Fortunately, the staff of Caritas-Guantánamo (Catholic Charities) is helping. The Bishop’s truck is distributing what other dioceses have given us: crackers, rice, beans, water, sausages, sardines, oil, soap, detergent, candles and matches.
- Invite everyone to pray, as did Moses, interceding for our people (Ex. 17).
- Do not celebrate Mass in damaged churches, for safety. Outside the church, people can place a table as a makeshift altar. The church building has been destroyed ... but not the Church!
In these early days, there have been many people and institutions who have offered to help in our recovery. Youth, lay ministers, sisters, priests and Catholic aid agencies. Offers from around the country and worldwide are coming in. We are thankful. People are so good!
To date, we have four totally demolished churches in Cabacú, Pueblo Viejo, La Tinta and Punta de Maisi. Additionally, there are encumbrances on ceilings, walls or windows in the churches of Imías, Cajobabo, La Yagruma, Savannah, El Jamal, and the parish house of Baracoa and the House of the Daughters of Charity in that city.
This has been an experience of a "Good Friday.” Faith convinces us that there will always be an "Easter Sunday.” She is the spine that will now sustain us. It is the salvation of God that we must discover at this time of tragedy.
If you would like to support Catholic Extension’s initiative helping the Cuban Church with its church building and rebuilding needs (including repairing and rebuilding hurricane-damaged churches), please click here to make a donation.
October 7, 2016
The following is a report based on information provided earlier today by Bishop Wilfredo Pino Estevez, of the Diocese of Guantanamo – Baracao, which took a direct hit from Hurricane Matthew.
The most severe destruction from the hurricane occurred in the town of Maisí, a city of 28,000 people located on the eastern tip of the island. In that town the hurricane has resulted in the total destruction of homes of poor construction, and most of the houses that are of sturdier construction have lost their roofs.
This is a rural and agricultural region of the island. Unfortunately, the storm destroyed the coffee and cacao crops. The roads to the area are totally destroyed. The small church in Cabacú, near Maisí was totally destroyed.
The situation looks similar in the eastern Cuban cities of San Antonio Sur (Population: 25,000) , Imías (Population: 21,000), and Baracoa (Population 80,000).
The 10 other dioceses across Cuba are collecting aid and supplies to support the people who are most in need at this time. They are donating canned goods, and metal roof tiles. Through their diocesan charity network “Caritas,” the dioceses of Cuba are delivering this aid to the people who have lost their homes and possessions.
The Catholic Church in Cuba is very organized, and less than a day after the storm, the Archdiocese of Santiago de Cuba, the second largest diocese on the island, had already collected and delivered the first round of aid and supplies for their neighbors to the east in the Diocese of Guantanamo – Baracoa.
As the United States takes a hit from this storm, we pray for the safety of our fellow citizens, and we are mindful of those in the Caribbean who are also reeling from its effects.
If you would like to support the Cuban Church’s requests, please click here to make a donation.
San Antonio Del Sur before the storm. The town suffered severe damage in Hurricane Matthew.
Massive Destruction in the Diocese of Guantánamo-Baracoa
October 4, 2016
Since Hurricane Matthew hit Cuba yesterday, we have been in touch with the Cuban Bishops’ Conference, which confirmed that the Diocese of Guantánamo-Baracoa, on the eastern end of the country, was the area hardest hit by the hurricane.
Thankfully no loss of life was reported yet, but the hurricane winds and rain caused massive destruction to the area and there is currently little communication with the eastern end of the island. Our sources said the Basilica of Our Lady of the Assumption in the city center of Baracoa had sheltered potentially hundreds of people during the storm.
We are awaiting an update from Bishop Wilfredo Pino of Guantánamo-Baracoa to better understand the extent of the damage. We stand ready to help the Catholic Church’s efforts to respond and rebuild in the aftermath of this storm.
During Hurricane Matthew, the Basilica of Our Lady of the Assumption has served as a shelter for potentially hundreds of people in Baracoa.
Prayers for Cuba
October 4, 2016
We ask for your prayers for the Catholic communities of eastern Cuba, which are in the direct path of the eye of Hurricane Matthew. The hurricane is expected to hit eastern Cuba from late Tuesday through early Wednesday.
Last week, Catholic Extension launched a new initiative to help with the rebuilding of churches in Cuba—including the many that are still in ruins from Hurricanes Sandy (2012) and Ike (2008). Following this latest storm we will be in touch with the bishops of eastern Cuba in the days ahead to see how Extension might be of help.
In August a delegation of Catholic Extension visited the very area where Matthew will make landfall.
Punta de Maisí is Cuba’s easternmost town and located in the Diocese of Guantánamo. On our tour around the diocese with Bishop Wilfredo Pino of Guantánamo, we met with the town’s Catholic community and its leader Rodolfo, in whose house church the community has been worshipping.
The community of La Asunción meets with Bishop Wilfredo Pino of Guantânamo.
In the 1990s, this small church community provided pastoral care for Haitian refugees who lived for some time at a nearby UN camp, and today, despite its very limited resources, the community maintains a soup kitchen for poor elderly people and in seven different parishioners’ homes, provides breakfast for 130 children.
We prayed the Lord’s Prayer together with the community.
In the nearby town of La Asunción, we heard stories of perseverance and faithfulness from many of the parishioners. And like all the communities we met, they were engaged in various activities helping the community, in particular with a ministry of visiting the sick.
Please keep Rodolfo, Cristina, Fernanda, Yoliz, Teofila, Ramón and all the faithful and their neighbors in the dioceses of Guantánamo, Santiago, Holguin, and Bayamo-Manzanillo in your prayers.
May Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre cover them with her protective mantel during the storm.