The natural disasters that have struck Puerto Rico in recent years keep piling on, traumatizing the island’s already poor and vulnerable population and leaving massive devastation in their wake.
The 6.4 magnitude earthquake Jan. 7 and its ongoing aftershocks are the latest catastrophes to slam the island, which still has not fully recovered from 2017’s Hurricane Maria.
To be sure, the people of Puerto Rico—our fellow American citizens—have demonstrated courage and endurance these last two years. And we can all be thankful that this latest blow has not caused a major loss of lives.
Once again, however, these long put-upon people are in need of help as they struggle to rebuild their infrastructure and their very lives.
Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced has requested a “major disaster declaration,” which requires White House approval. Such a declaration would make the island eligible for funds to repair the power grid in the hard hit southern part of the island around Ponce. The funding would also allow the hiring of more building inspectors and offer assistance to individuals.
With more than $18 billion in federal rebuilding funds still not released after Hurricane Maria, we’re hoping the response is better this time and we strongly urge our congressional delegation to carefully monitor the situation.
That’s what the Archdiocese of New York is doing.
Cardinal Dolan responded quickly to the latest crisis, arranging for donations totaling $80,000 from archdiocesan Catholic Charities and from the archdiocese itself.
The cardinal also asked priests to consider taking up a special collection in their parishes or to express support for Puerto Rico by another means.
The Archdiocese of New York has a special bond with Puerto Rico, whose people were the first sizable group of Hispanic migrants to our region. With Puerto Rico’s status as an unincorporated American territory, they were already U.S. citizens when they began arriving in large numbers in the years following World War II.
Indeed, the archdiocesan Office of Hispanic Ministry, which continues to be one of the largest and most active ministries in the archdiocese, was started in the 1950s as an outreach to the newly arriving Puerto Rican Catholics.
Puerto Rican New Yorkers are still a major presence in the archdiocese, and many of them are undoubtedly worried about families and friends they may have in the stricken area.
Since the earthquakes, thousands of families have been sleeping outdoors in tents or other makeshift shelters, fearful that another aftershock could cause those homes still standing to collapse around them.
Their immediate needs are basic: food, shelter and medical attention.
After that, their electrical grid needs to be repaired and power restored; schools and homes need to be inspected and shored up or rebuilt as needed; and, maybe most importantly, officials in Puerto Rico and Washington need a workable plan to better protect the island against storms and tremors to come.
Meanwhile, Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves of San Juan, who served in two Franciscan parishes in the Bronx as a young priest, thanked people on the U.S. mainland for their spiritual solidarity and prayers, their awareness, and their concern.
He also appealed for donations to relief efforts aimed at providing food and shelter. “That would be a big help,” he said.
We join that appeal, asking all who are able to donate through the Catholic Charities USA Puerto Rico Disaster Fund at catholiccharitiesusa.org.