CNS PHOTO BY BOB ROLLER
Margarita Rodriguez holds a flashlight as she quizzes her 11-year-old daughter, Isel Martinez, about homework outside their home in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Oct. 25. Much of Puerto Rico has been without power after Hurricane Maria devastated the island in September.
CNS PHOTO BY BOB ROLLER Margarita Rodriguez holds a flashlight as she quizzes her 11-year-old daughter, Isel Martinez, about homework outside their home in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Oct. 25. Much of Puerto Rico has been without power after Hurricane Maria devastated the island in September.
In the months following the active hurricane season that produced Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, people throughout the Archdiocese of Washington have generously given to parish, school and archdiocesan efforts to aid the victims of the natural disasters.

Through second collections in various parishes during the months of September and October, the archdiocese has collected more than $600,000, which was distributed to the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, the Diocese of Saint Thomas in the Virgin Islands and the Archdiocese of San Juan in Puerto Rico.

In the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, 68 parish, school and archdiocesan locations reported damage in the weeks following Hurricane Harvey, with four of those locations having damage that has been categorized as “catastrophic.” Those four parishes had to work quickly to find new locations for their schools and to celebrate Mass.

Around the same time as the archdiocesan-wide collection, St. Andrew Apostle Parish in Silver Spring held a Holy Hour to pray for hurricane victims. As they were praying, people began to wonder if their parish could do anything else to help the people who had been so badly affected by the hurricane season.

The parish council discussed what they could do, and decided that they wanted to do a large, sacrificial collection that would assist people on a parish-to-parish, pastor-to-pastor level. So, they began calling different dioceses that had been damaged and asking how they can help.

Each diocese recommended a parish or religious community that needed help, and St. Andrew’s began to build relationships with them, starting with praying for them. Then, Father Dan Leary, St. Andrew’s pastor, announced that they wished to do a large collection to support four communities in need, and asked the parishioners at Mass if they wanted to participate. The parishioners enthusiastically responded “yes,” he said.

They planned to do one large, special collection in place of their usual one for the parish on the weekend of Nov. 18-19, and set a goal of raising $35,000 that would be split evenly between four communities in Texas, Puerto Rico, Dominica and the Virgin Islands.

Father Leary asked his parishioners to make sacrifices to collect money that would be donated in the collection, by doing things like giving up going out to dinner or buying expensive coffee. He also asked them to reach out to their coworkers or classmates to ask them to help.

St. Andrew’s website had a section dedicated to this collection, with descriptions of the damage inflicted on each community and video messages from people there asking for their help. This ability to see the hurricanes’ impacts on those communities added to the parish’s desire to help, said Father Leary.

“People felt great about doing this for people,” he said.

All of the communities that they helped sustained significant physical damage to their buildings, causing issues like severely damaged roofs and windows, ruined electronics, broken statues, and flooded sanctuaries.

One of the parishes they helped is Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Newtown, Dominica, which has about 500 parishioners, spanning across four communities with one main church and three chapels. Twenty percent of their parishioners lost everything as a result of Hurricane Maria, and many others were left without ceilings or windows. But through all the damage, the parish has been delivering food packages to those affected by the storm and using their parish hall as a hurricane shelter, where families have been able to live temporarily.

“Hurricane Maria has brought us to our knees. Our houses have been destroyed and our spirits are sagging,” said Msgr. Williams John-Lewis in a video for the St. Andrew Apostle community. “But we are full of hope that although it is an uphill climb, Our Lady of Fatima Parish will be rebuilt, and so too our country…We will not lose our hope nor our joy or our faith, but most of all we will continue praising God.”

Msgr. John-Lewis said he was planning two projects with the money they are receiving: to purchase building supplies for the families who most need them, and to rebuild the parish’s pre-school.

In Yauco, Puerto Rico, a convent and other buildings used by the Dominican Sisters of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima were destroyed, including one that houses 20 sick and elderly sisters. They have no electricity, and the sisters are helping to provide food and medical services to the people most affected by the storm.

At St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Port Arthur, Texas, the floodwater in the church rose to 13 inches high and the water level in the rectory was about 18 inches high, ruining their organ, piano, pews, chairs, hymnals, Bibles, choir robes, microphone, speakers and computers, in addition to other valuables.

The Virgin Islands also sustained serious damage from both Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria. The roof and top floor was blown off of the rectory of St. Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Thomas, and at St. Ann’s Church on the island of St. Croix, there is a hole in the chapel ceiling, broken windows, and the ceiling of the entire office building is gone –destroying the computers, printers and other electronic equipment there.

“At St. Ann’s Church I found a people that are extremely resilient,” said Father Louis Kemmayou, the parish’s pastor, in his video for St. Andrew’s. “I believe that talking about the hurricane experience, there are no words to describe what we lived on that night of the 19th of September…After the passage of that storm we find out the following day the devastation, and we understood the power of Mother Nature, and that what we can do is just put our trust in God.”

In the end, the parishioners of St. Andrew’s far exceeded their goal of $35,000, and collected $60,044 to distribute equally between these communities, including more than $6,000 raised by Mision San Andres, the parish’s mission that reaches out to the Spanish-speaking community located at the McCarrick Center in Silver Spring. Father Leary said the collection at St. Andrew’s was almost triple their usual weekly collection.

After receiving the check from St. Andrew’s, Father Mark Ameh, the pastor of St. John the Evangelist in Port Arthur, Texas, told Father Leary, “God bless your people. You don’t even know us, and you love us.”

In the days following the collection, parishioners shared their stories of sacrifice with Father Leary. The donations came from the hard work of people who included a high school student who collected $900 at her school, a man who packed his lunch every day instead of buying it out, and one of the parish’s altar servers who did extra chores and then donated her chore money.

“The number isn’t necessarily only the blessing…more than that it’s a statement as a community how much we care and how when we come together we can deeply touch people,” said Father Leary in a video thanking his parishioners.

This collection also fell upon the day when the parish collected 250 boxes of food to be distributed to the Missionaries of Charity, Assumption Parish, and Catholic Charities, as well as 250 bags of food for the annual Greg Gannon Food Drive. And, the organization collecting the boxes of food received a $15 check for every box they received.

“I have no real clarity on how it happened, but it was just great,” said Father Leary. “And I am happy for the people. People want to be proud of their faith and people want to be proud of being generous.”