CUBA: The chapel fell, but not the Church

The destroyed chapel in Jaquí, Cuba
The destroyed chapel in Jaquí, Cuba

A leading Catholic bishop in Cuba has described the damage in the parts of his diocese devastated by Hurricane Irma.

Archbishop Wilfredo Pino Estevez of Camagüey told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need how he visited the town of Esmeralda in the eastern province of Camaguey, the day after it was struck by the storm.

Hurricane Irma hit Cuba on 8th-9th September. According to local emergency services it battered Esmeralda for a full nine hours, with winds in excess of 155 miles (250 km) per hour. Over 7000 people had to be evacuated.

Archbishop Estevez said he saw “great destruction, not only in Esmeralda itself, but also in the area around the sugar refinery in Jaronú in the nearby town of Brasil, where the recently restored church was damaged”.

He added: “When we arrived in Esmeralda, we celebrated Mass there with the handful of people who were able to attend.

“There too we saw many damaged homes, partially or totally demolished, roofless, etc. Some of the people were still visibly scared. ‘What a long night that was!” was the most common thing I heard from the people I talked to.”

In the small town of Jiquí the chapel was destroyed. Archbishop Wilfredo told ACN “it was painful to see our church totally razed to the ground, with the benches smashed and the holy pictures ruined”.

While he was in Jiquí, despite a fierce downpour, he met with Ismaela and Alberto, a local married couple.

He was deeply impressed by the first words Ismaela said to him: “Archbishop, the chapel may have collapsed, but not the Church.”

Archbishop Estevez described the work being done by the Church in the various different towns and parishes affected.

He said that when he asked his priests and religious if they were alright, the response of most of them was unanimous: “We are well, but we were going out with some food and a few other things, practical items, in order to help anyone who may be in need.”

In conclusion, Archbishop Estevez recalled that on Friday (8th September), the feast of the nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the patroness of Cuba, “we were unable to hold the usual processions of Our Lady of Charity, but now, as on other occasions, Our Good Lord is inviting us to make ‘processions of love’ like the ones I’ve just been telling you about.”

Ulrich Kny, ACN’s project head for projects in Cuba, said that the priorities for aid will probably be the rebuilding of the ruined churches in Jaronú and Jiquí.

He added that if the local bishops requested help, ACN would provide aid “so that the Church can act as an instrument of God’s mercy and help remedy some of the damage caused by the hurricane, which also did not spare other dioceses, such as Ciego de Ávila, Santa Clara, Matanzas and Havana”.

The death toll in Cuba caused by Hurricane Irma currently stands at 10.