In a message to ACN, Archbishop Wilfredo Pino Estevez of Camagüey tells of his visit to the most badly damaged areas of his diocese.
According to the local municipal emergency services, Hurricane Irma lashed the town of Esmeralda in the eastern province of Camaguey for a full nine hours, with winds in excess of 250 km an hour. Over 7000 people had to be evacuated.
The day afterwards, the Archbishop of Camaguey visited the town, where 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”. Likewise, in the small town of Jiquí, the chapel had collapsed. “Apparently, it exploded”, the Archbishop was told. “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.”
Archbishop Wilfredo went on to tell ACN that on arriving in Jiquí “it was painful to see our church totally razed to the ground, with the benches smashed and the holy pictures ruined”. While he was there, despite the continuing rain, he met with Ismaela and Alberto, a local married couple, and was deeply impressed by the first words Ismaela said to him: “Archbishop, the chapel may have collapsed, but not the Church.”
In his message Archbishop Wilfredo spoke about the work being done by the Church in the various different towns and parishes affected. When he asked his priests and religious if they were all okay, 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.”
Archbishop Wilfredo concluded his message by recalling that on 8 September, Our Lady’s birthday and the feast of 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. I’m sure that tomorrow, Monday, when the priests come to the Bishop’s House, they will be telling me about new “processions” of this kind…”
Ulrich Kny, ACN’s section head with responsibility for projects in Cuba, thinks that the priorities for aid will be the rebuilding of the ruined churches in Jaronú and Jiquí. ACN is also considering sending emergency 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, where 10 deaths have already been reported”.