Catholic Organizations Actively Working on Puerto Rico's Recovery

By Vega, Wallice J. de la | National Catholic Reporter, November 3, 2017 | Go to article overview

Catholic Organizations Actively Working on Puerto Rico's Recovery


Vega, Wallice J. de la, National Catholic Reporter


QUEBRADILLAS, PUERTO RICO * 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.

Despite early logistical obstacles, as of Oct. 20, the local Caritas chapter had disbursed more than $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 community.

"We had to blindly design a response plan," Fr. Enrique 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."

Caritas 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.

Kim 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."

Puerto Rico's post-hurricane recovery efforts have been largely a grassroots 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 Catholics.

Katherine 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..

"All 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."

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

Bishop Daniel Fernandez of Arecibo touched on that exact sentiment from Riolo at a Mass at St. Raphael the Archangel Church in Quebradillas Oct. …

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