In Santiago de Cuba it is just dawning. Today, Friday October 26, 2012, just 48 hours after the horrible devastation left behind Hurricane Sandy, I got up early to pray and write. Amid the sadness for so many families left destitute, as Eliseo Diego said of the man with the bundle on his back, in his “Book of the Wonders of Bologna”: “Pilgrim you go with the dusk and your poor belongings: fears, sorrows.”
So I see my people, wandering among the ruins of what little we have of which nothing is left to us. And yet, I say this with the utmost pride in my poor people, who think kindly of each other and offer their hand, and with the strength of the poor they say in the vortex of misfortune, “It doesn’t matter what we lost, we are still alive.”
Yes, I have seen many signs of solidarity, like my parishioner Tito, a young medical student, who has come to clear the debris from the houses of his neighbors and relatives, and yesterday he spent the afternoon with Pavel, his brother-in-law, saving the zinc roofing sheets lying in the patio, which we returned to the rectory roof.
My sister and her 15-year-old stepdaughter who have cleaned the first floor of the rectory, while the second is being roofed. Manolo and Mario, who despite the dangerous winds, placed the tiles to protect my books, computers and printers from the weather.
Gladis and her grandson Pedro, who were the first to arrive to lend a hand, although they still had a great deal of debris to sweep up in their own house. And Eliecer Avila, who came from Puerto Padre to help, because he could not sit there, knowing how badly things were for us here.
Yoani Sánchez and Reinaldo Escobar, who from Havana let me know they were collecting food and medicine for the victims. My brother Roberto Betancourt, who from his parish of Caridad sent me the warmth of his flock, as did Ophelia Lamadrid, with her ninety years, and Teresita de la Paz, the widow of Gustavo Arcos Bergnes, who pray for me and for my people. They have told me about the mobilization you have already started to send aid “so much more urgent now that our need is so great.”
My beloved brothers and sisters: from this distance and immersed in supreme suffering after the inevitable and disarming misfortune, I say from my heart, that I have felt, in all this time of uncertainty and bitterness, when the roof blow off my parish and my home, running to save the books and what I could from the rain and afterwards, when I could go out and see the desolation of my people, I felt your presence, your prayers and the solidarity of all of you.
I knew that we were not alone and that we could count on the the love and support of all of you, of all our friends, Cubans and otherwise, who from far away accompanied us with your prayers and your love.
In particular, when I went to pray for an elderly woman who died of a heart attack in the midst of the storm, sheltered in a small bathroom, with her daughter, granddaughter and her two little great-grandchildren in a house flying to pieces through the air, her heart could not resist so much anguish and exploded. Mine bleeds for all the misfortune of my people.
The city lies in ruins. My old parish of San Antonio María Claret, in the neighborhood of Sueño, collapsed. Only the Christ that I one day put on the wall of the chancel, stood as a silent witness along with the granite altar that stood there for 30 years.
So did my old church of San Pedrito, whose repair almost cost me prison. Just as my beloved town of San Luis, where I was born to the faith and then began my pastoral work as a priest, and whose new marble altar was consecrated in solemn ceremony less than a month ago. And this has happened with almost all churches, rectories and convents throughout the diocese … They lie in ruins, they are homeless or have been seriously damaged.
But what is it, I wonder, before the suffering of so many people who have lost everything: the effort of entire lives and even generations, transformed into offal dripping mud and dust. So too the books, televisions, and other household appliances, furniture… and the house!
It is calculated that 150,000 houses are destroyed or seriously damaged. And this in the midst of such a difficult economic situation, virtually of survival! We felt that we were so badly off… and now we are much worse!
But back to my memory, the first sentence I said, and that I have heard from so many mouths: But we are alive! Thanks be to God for the life that He gives us and for keeping us, because it is amazing that in the midst of so much devastation the dead have been so few. What does God want to say to us with all this?
Father José Conrado Rodríguez Alegre
Santiago de Cuba
Translated from Cubanet on 5 November 2012