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Deacon Steve Greco is a permanent deacon of the Diocese of Orange. He is founder of Spirit Filled Hearts Ministry, and host of Empowered by the Spirit. On this episode, his guest is Deacon Modesto Cordero, the director of the Office of Worship for the Diocese of Orange. Their topic for discussion is the urgent need for Eucharistic Revival throughout the Catholic church..

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Originally broadcast on 10/16/22


CHICAGO (CNS) — Six months after Hurricane Maria wreaked unprecedented devastation on Puerto Rico, the island is still suffering, and much of the relief and recovery help people have received has come from Catholic parishes.

To help those parishes continue “their spiritual and corporal works of mercy and serve their communities,” Catholic Extension in Chicago has launched a new campaign called “Patrons of Puerto Rico.”

“Puerto Rican parishes have been so inspiring in their response to the recent hurricanes,” Catholic Extension said in a March 20 statement.

“Often operating out of badly damaged buildings and celebrating Mass in temporary quarters, parishes have rallied armies of volunteers to distribute relief supplies and provide community and connection for the elderly and most vulnerable,” it said.

The Chicago-based papal society is inviting individual donors, parishes and church groups to partner with it and “adopt” a parish. At its webpage, an interactive map features examples of Puerto Rico’s Catholic communities helping their neighbors.

“In this time of crisis,” Extension said, “parishes across the island have exhausted themselves in providing material and spiritual comfort, while their own financial sources have been greatly diminished by the increases in poverty and unemployment and the slow progress toward recovery. The needs of Puerto Rico’s parishes are great, and they will require support over the next few years.”

Catholic Extension raises and distributes funds to support U.S. mission dioceses, many of which are rural, cover a large geographic area, and have limited personnel and pastoral resources. In Puerto Rico, it has a 110-year history of supporting parishes in the six dioceses there.

Its first church-building assistance was to the Archdiocese of San Juan in 1908. Since then it has supported 1,400 construction and repair projects of church buildings in Puerto Rico. Extension also has supported church leadership development and ministry.

The agency’s staff saw firsthand some of what parishes and their parishioners are going through during a Feb. 27-March 1 visit to Puerto Rico.

They met with Father Jorge Morales, pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in the northern Puerto Rican town of Vega Baja, and several of his parishioners. The parish is in the Diocese of Arecibo.

A couple of days after a direct hit from Hurricane Maria had devastated much of Vega Baja and after the floodwaters had receded enough, Father Morales and some of his parishioners were finally able to reach their historic church.

The storm had ripped open the heavy doors, flooded the church, torn off the roof and smashed the windows. It had been left in ruin and was unusable.

“We were heartbroken,” said Miguel Rios, one of the parishioners. “This church is like a second home to us.”

But Father Morales told them, “The church building is secondary. The important thing is to take care of our neighbors. They need us now.”

The priest and his parishioners were the first to reach and bring food to the hardest-hit neighborhoods of Los Naranjos and Sabana, where many people had lost everything. They organized a coordinated effort to deliver food, water, supplies — and hope.

For six weeks, they prepared and delivered about 200 warm meals each day. That work continues six months after Hurricane Maria.

“It was incredible,” Father Morales recalled. “I never asked for a single dollar of donations to buy the food. But somehow every day, people who had very little themselves gave us some of their money or brought food that we could cook.”

The priest said he was struck by a great sense of generosity in such crisis among his parishioners, who are working-class and poor. Many have lost much themselves but have reached out to those in worse shape.

Father Morales called it “an opportunity for us to rediscover our Christian vocation, which is to go out and reach out to those in need and to proclaim the good news with our witness of service and practice of charity and solidarity.”

Meanwhile, his parish celebrates Mass in a crammed room of the parish center. Buckets are set up to catch the water dripping from the ceiling.

Like Our Lady of the Rosary, churches all across the island have been serving their communities, despite their own problems in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

“In moments of great difficulty and challenge, you can see the power of faith communities alive in people’s hearts and lives,” Father Jack Wall, president of Catholic Extension, said during the Catholic Extension staff’s visit to Puerto Rico.

“People come together in faith in moments of crisis to strengthen one another and to realize that they are not alone,” he added in March 1 statement. “They are reaching out beyond themselves to become God’s healing touch and healing care for those in the communities around them. As faith communities, we embody the spirit of God. We are one together.”

Faith communities have played a crucial role in delivering help, hope and healing to people, underscoring their importance for the communities they serve, particularly in remote and isolated areas.

“The island’s Christians are clearly playing a central role in the recovery,” noted The Wall Street Journal in November. “Although many church buildings have been damaged, the churches that remain are a haven for those in need.”

According to many news reports, government and relief agencies failed to reach many of the more isolated, impoverished areas for weeks. In some places, residents note that without the churches springing into action, relief efforts would have been totally stymied.

As of March 20, power had been restored to 93 percent of the island, but about 121,000 residents were still in the dark; crews continued to work to restore power in mountainous barrios, or neighborhoods. Three generators from the Federal Emergency Management Agency are still providing power to the island’s electric grid.

Once-bustling town centers and business districts are shuttered in cities large and small, signaling a massive loss of incomes and livelihoods. Collapsed buildings, flooded homes and tarp-covered, roofless structures abound. Puerto Rico’s poverty rate is now at 52.7 percent; in some mountain areas, child poverty rates exceed 80 percent.

According to Catholic Extension, without the help of Catholic churches: Many helpless, elderly community members stranded in destroyed or damaged homes would not have been sought out and cared for; many of the hundreds of thousands of meals desperately needed in the first few weeks after Maria would not have been prepared and distributed; and many people would not have had access medical services.

Since Hurricane Maria, Catholic Extension has provided and committed more than $1.1 million in support of the Catholic Church in Puerto Rico.

Catholic Extension said that donors’ response to its fundraising appeals have helped all the U.S. mission dioceses devastated by last year’s hurricanes. In addition to Puerto Rico’s six dioceses, those include the Diocese of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Diocese of Beaumont, Texas.



SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (CNS) — Above all material and financial considerations after Hurricane Maria’s severe damage in Puerto Rico, one must highlight the brotherly spirit shown by the island’s people during the ongoing recovery period, said the island’s top Catholic pastor. 

Although the church’s financial burden has obviously become heavier as it strives to meet the increased emergency material needs of the faithful, it is the people’s “huge capability for solidarity” that shines through in this disaster, Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves of San Juan told Catholic News Service Oct. 25. 

“There are so many helping gestures, like people who don’t know each other but share ‘our daily bread,’ and neighbors sitting down in the dark out on the street chatting,” said Archbishop Gonzalez. 

Due to slow government response to Hurricane Maria’s victims in Puerto Rico, there has been an increase in church and neighborhood or town groups banding together to clear remote unpaved roads, remove fallen trees and debris, and provide material aid to the neediest. 

“They are giving lessons of what is the essence of how to live,” said the archbishop. “There’s a very strong resiliency and spiritual capacity that we have seen in our people. College youngsters have taken to the streets to remove debris. … These are touching and impressive moments we are living.” 

Some of those youngsters come from San Ignacio Catholic High School in San Juan. Father Andres Vall Serra, the Jesuit school’s pastoral director, told CNS that the school has a special project to immerse students in providing aid to the poor. It is a class titled “Magis,” which basically means universal good, or “what can one do to reach the good of all,” based on the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. 

“Every Friday, all students from one grade’s class are sent out to distribute filtration systems and food to poor communities,” said Father Andres. “It’s a moment that allows them to encounter Christ, but in a way that helps transform them.” 

The charity project has a grade-specific mental health counseling component, aimed to help students cope with the stress brought on by Hurricane Maria’s effects. 

Alvaro Carrillo, a senior at San Ignacio, spoke about how a Catholic-oriented education has helped prepare him for disasters such as hurricanes, noting “the emphasis on community impact and internal growth as a person. I mean being compassionate (in order) to recognize the worlds needs and how to react to situations like this one.” 

“This school has focused us on its Jesuit motto, ‘Men at the service of others,’” said senior Ricardo Sanchez. “It was here, in seventh grade, where I started going out to help communities in need.” 

San Ignacio reopened Oct. 3, the first Catholic school to do so in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, said Father Andres. It was moderately damaged, mostly by falling trees. Its basement amphitheater and several storage units underground were flooded. 

“We are at time of national mourning, trauma, after the passing of two hurricanes … the consequences on the mood, the spirit, the emotions (of the people) are deep,” said Archbishop Gonzalez, adding that “another trauma is that of shared love and solidarity.” 

He agreed with several pastors who had told CNS that, after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, Mass attendance has risen sharply, although many still could not leave their homes because of the damage. “But yes, there’s a spiritual rebirth,” he said. 

Church finances have been severely impacted in Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria. As businesses and factories shut down, families’ economic stability has been affected while their financial demands have increased to cover repairs and replacement of lost property. 

“We can neither ask nor expect that they continue the same level of support (to the church) when they themselves are barely surviving,” said Archbishop Gonzalez. “In time, we have to see how we deal with sustaining parishes that can’t sustain themselves, as well as our (television) Channel 13 and radio stations.” 

However, the archbishop stressed that “our focus now is direct assistance. Most people need water, food, clothing. That’s our primary mission.” 

“The top challenge the church in Puerto Rico faces is to nurture the soul our people with God’s word, Jesus’ presence through our works of charity, solidarity, celebrating the Eucharist, and maintaining a perspective that keeps us anchored in reality of these tragic events and full of hope for the strength that the Holy Spirit gives us,” said Archbishop Gonzalez.


WASHINGTON (CNS) — Thousands sought shelter in Puerto Rico, as Hurricane Maria, called a “monster storm” by many, hit the Caribbean island just short of a Category 5 storm Sept. 20, with winds of 155 miles per hour.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said the hurricane had the potential of being the “most catastrophic hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in a century.”

Via Twitter, Catholic Relief Services, the official international humanitarian agency of the U.S. Catholic community, said it had staff in Tortola, in the nearby British Virgin Islands, preparing to help. The Weather Channel said up to 1 million on the island of 3.4 million were without power early Sept. 20.

Even after the storm has passed, some worry about the island’s ability to recover since it already is facing billions in debt from years of financial mismanagement. A disaster modeler for Enki Research in Savannah, Georgia, told Bloomberg news that Maria could cause up to $30 billion in damage to Puerto Rico, a territory of the U. S., as well to the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The local Catholic Charities agency in the U.S. Virgin Islands was assisting people who lost their homes during Hurricane Irma, which struck Sept. 6, and others who sought protection from Hurricane Maria.

Catholic Charities of the Virgin Islands traditionally operates soup kitchens and shelters for homeless people on St. Croix and St. Thomas, and shelters on the islands were full as Hurricane Maria struck Sept. 19-20.

Writing in a post on the Catholic Charities USA website Sept. 19, Bernetia Akin said that her husband, Mic, former director of Catholic Charities of the Virgin Islands, had delivered a $50,000 check and $20,000 in gift cards from the Alexandria, Virginia-based church agency.

No immediate reports on the impact of Hurricane Maria on the three main islands of the small territory were available Sept. 20 other than that Akin reported the shelters were full before the storm hit.

In the days following Hurricane Irma’s strike on St. Thomas, Catholic Charities of the Virgin Islands, increased its outreach and soup kitchen service, Akin wrote.

Limited electricity was being supplied by small generators.

“We are serving between 200 and 300 people a day,” the post quoted Andrea Shillingford, the agency’s executive director. The extra demand has placed a strain on the agency, she said, adding that “the only assistance we have received is from the Catholic Church and Catholic Charities USA.”

CRS was preparing to go into the same areas affected by Hurricane Irma in early September once Hurricane Maria’s moved away from the Antilles.

Caroline Brennan, the agency’s emergency communications director, told CNS Sept. 20 that communications with staff and partner agencies in the Caribbean islands had been severed by the latest storm.

The U.S. bishop’s overseas relief and development agency has been working in Antigua, Barbuda, Dominican Republic and Cuba since Irma left homes, churches, schools and businesses in shambles. Brennan said some of the same communities in the Antilles, particularly Dominica, would be in need again.

“The severity of the storms and winds were devastation, especially in areas hit by Hurricane Irma,” Brennan said.

As Maria approached, people still recovering from Irma were again seeking shelter.

“We anticipate most likely to provide shelter support and basic supplies for people out of homes,” Brennan said. “Depending on the devastation, you can anticipate similar devastation for storms like this in a similar backdrop.”

CRS also was working with Netherlands-based Caritas International partners in St. Martin, which continued to recover from Irma’s punch, she added.

On Tortola, British Virgin Islands, Amanda Schweitzer, emergency coordinator for CRS, said that after what the locals saw from Irma, “they are scared” because Hurricane Maria also was expected to hit the island.

“We are just getting prepared, trying to secure buildings that were damaged by Irma and getting supplies. Families are opening homes to neighbors and others whose homes were destroyed,” Schweitzer said in a news release from CRS.

“Right now, everyone is preparing again for Maria, but things here are already bad,” Schweitzer said. “I’ve never seen anything like this in terms of the destruction. It’s complete devastation.”