Parishes Step Up to Help Disaster Victims in Puerto Rico, Mexico

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The archdiocesan Office of Hispanic Ministry has been in contact with a number of parishes and community groups in efforts to aid hurricane victims in Puerto Rico and earthquake victims in Mexico.

Maria Gonzalez, 66, is grateful. A longtime parishioner at St. John Chrysostom in the Bronx, she was born and raised in Puerto Rico, in the town of Comerio.

“On Saturday, I finally got to talk with my niece there; she sounded very sad, and that made me emotional. I started to cry,” Ms. Gonzalez said from the Bronx during a phone interview with CNY Sept. 25 in her native Spanish.

Her adult niece, Johanna Lopez, told her they need water, food and “many things for babies.”

Ms. Gonzalez said she had “tried and tried for days” to reach her niece, but had been unsuccessful until Sept. 23, “but have not been able to again since then…

“This is all very sad. Estamos rezando mucho...mucho oraciones (We are praying a lot...many prayers). I didn’t know that the storm would be so strong.”

Mercedes Hernandez, 52, a member of St. Jerome’s parish in the Bronx, works at the St. Jerome HANDS Community Center, as does Sister Julia Suarez, J.P. Ms. Hernandez said Monday that both she and Sister Julia have checked with relatives in Mexico and that thankfully all is well. “They are all OK,” she said, adding parishioners are also prayerfully concerned. The St. Jerome HANDS Community Center has been collecting monetary donations, food, clothing, baby supplies and household essentials for earthquake victims in Mexico. 

A native New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent, Father Eric Cruz is pastor of St. John Chrysostom parish in the Bronx, and the Bronx regional coordinator of Catholic Charities. “My entire family except my mother and siblings are there” in Puerto Rico, Father Cruz said Monday. His mother and siblings reside in the United States; his father is deceased.

Father Cruz said he has not been able to reach his relatives in Puerto Rico.  

Of the collective efforts to help others, “that’s what we do—we as a Church,” he said. “Unfortunately, we don’t see the scope of it until a disaster or something else unfortunate occurs…This is bringing God’s presence through our efforts. We could give supplies and we could send money—but we need to also offer ourselves. It’s a great challenge, spiritually and otherwise.”

For the people of Puerto Rico and Mexico, the power of prayer is paramount, Father Cruz added. “There are now donation locations and donation times—we’ve been active in that. In fact, I just received something (related information) from the Bronx Borough President’s Office.”

“When we are serving the most needy, the most hungry, we are serving Christ—this is very profound,” Father Cruz said.

A Church leader highly involved in the relief efforts, Father Cruz is himself concerned about and praying for loved ones in Puerto Rico.

As is Wanda Vasquez, director of the Office of Hispanic Ministry. She was born in Puerto Rico and accompanied her family to the United States when she was 8 years old. 

“Yes, I am concerned with what’s been going on in Puerto Rico,” Ms. Vasquez said Monday. “I do have family in Puerto Rico. I’ve heard from one side of the family, but from the other side we still haven’t heard anything, and it’s been what now—six days. We’re still patiently waiting and praying.

“I was born in Viequez, Puerto Rico—a small island off the main island. My mom herself is there; we have not heard from her in six days. My father passed away three years ago—we’ve heard from his side of the family; they’re doing fine.”

She said people involved in the relief effort with her office include outreach workers at Hunter College and organizers of the Puerto Rican Day Parade.

Ms. Vasquez noted that Father Cruz is Bronx-born of Puerto Rican parents, appointed by Cardinal Dolan as chaplain of the Puerto Rican community within the archdiocese. “He’s been able to give us that hope that we need,” she said. “We keep the faith—things are going to be OK.”

At St. Elizabeth parish in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, Father Ambiorix Rodriguez, the pastor, said his parish also has been collecting financial donations, food and essentials. “We have been working with Catholic Charities and with the (archdiocesan) Hispanic Ministry—they gave me a few links,” said Father Rodriguez who, like most of his parishioners, is of Dominican Republic descent.

So a parish made up mostly of people from the Dominican Republic has been proactively involved in helping fellow Latinos who are disaster victims in Puerto Rico and Mexico.  

St. Jerome parish in the Bronx is coordinating efforts with Mi Casa es Puebla, an outreach center in Passaic, N.J., for relief efforts in Mexico.

Other parishes involved in relief efforts include Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine at St. Bernard’s on West 14th Street in Manhattan.

The Office of Hispanic Ministry also has been involved in raising public awareness regarding drop-off locations for donations, such as fire stations, and with fund-raising events, such as poetry readings and musical performances. 

Information: Office of Hispanic Ministry, (212) 371-1000, ext. 2982. 

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