PROVIDENCE — As regions impacted by the natural and man-made disasters of the past several months continue to recover, Rhode Islanders, especially those with family and friends living in the affected areas, are keeping a close watch on unfolding events.
Sister Sandra Bello, a Missionary Sister Servant of the Word currently living in the order’s West Greenwich convent, has been offering prayers in particular for the residents of her native Mexico, where two major earthquakes took several hundred lives and caused extensive damage in mid-September.
Though the earthquakes left her family unharmed, she explained to Rhode Island Catholic that the second quake, which took place on September 19, caused significant damage to her native city of Cuernavaca, destroying her brother’s home. Despite the damage, Sister Bello said the prayers she offers from Rhode Island are not of sadness, but of thanksgiving for her family and hope that their faith, and the faith of all those affected, remains strong.
“For me, it’s to give thanks for his infinite love that he had for my family, for all people who were affected, who suffered the disasters,” she said. “We know that God is the only one who can help.”
Sister Bello was one of many individuals who gathered at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul on Sunday, October 15, to pray for those affected by recent tragedies, including the hurricanes that impacted Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and other parts of the Caribbean, the earthquake in Mexico, the mass shooting in Las Vegas and, more recently, the wildfires in California.
“The fact is we’ve all been touched in one way or another by this unprecedented series of terrible calamities that have come our way,” Bishop Thomas J. Tobin told those gathered on Sunday morning. “And these tragedies lead to questions. Why did this happen? Where is God when this happens?
“Those are the questions that mankind has struggled with from the very beginning of time,” he continued. “The question, the mystery, of suffering.”
Though suffering always has been, and will continue to be, part of living in an imperfect world, as Bishop Tobin reminded those gathered, for many, the events of the past two months have brought the reality of suffering to a new light. Since the night of August 25, when Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Texas coast, residents of North America and the Caribbean have watched as one tragedy after another has engulfed the region, sowing destruction and impacting relatives, fellow citizens and brothers and sisters in the faith. From the natural disasters that continue to destroy the homes of entire communities, to the mass shooting that left Las Vegas and the nation reeling in its wake, tragedy has made itself known in an intimate way in recent months.
In response to such events, Bishop Tobin encouraged the people of the diocese to become keenly aware of the suffering of others at all times, not only when disaster strikes, to acknowledge God’s blessings and to keep our own problems in perspective. Most importantly, though, he asked those gathered to continue to pray and offer their support in spiritual solidarity with those affected by recent tragedies.
“Our spiritual solidarity reminds us that we’re all part of one human family and when one member of our family suffers, we all suffer with them,” he said. “Our prayer reminds those who are suffering in the midst of their isolation and pain that they are not alone, there are people who are thinking about them, standing with them, and praying with them spiritually.”
Bishop Tobin also emphasized the importance of offering material support as communities recover, reminding those present of the ongoing collection efforts of Catholic Charities USA and Catholic Relief Services, both of which have provided relief following the hurricanes. Since early September, the Diocese of Providence has participated in relief efforts in a number of ways, including a parish special collection to support cleanup following Hurricane Harvey, a donation to the Archdiocese of San Juan to support recovery in Puerto Rico, donations by area schools to support Catholic education in affected areas and the volunteer efforts of local Catholic high school students who recently travelled on a service trip to Texas.
“Many others are there to help us translate our intentions of charity into real, practical means,” he said.
Those in attendance at the Mass included students from Overbrook Academy, a Catholic boarding school for girls in grades six through nine located in Greenville and run by the consecrated women of Regnum Christi. Many of the school’s international students are natives of Mexico, and the entire student body has been offering prayers for the family and friends of classmates affected by the earthquakes at home.
“It has been a lot of solidarity in Mexico,” said school Director Cristina Villaseñor, herself a native of Guadalajara. “It was a beautiful spirit of charity and helping each other.”
Estefi Sundblad, a student whose family lives in Mexico City, said that while her family members are all safe following the earthquakes, the distance between them has been difficult as she wants to be present for them.
“It was weird, we wanted to help them,” she explained.
In Rhode Island, the students have offered support to their communities back home by distributing information on how to donate to relief efforts following the earthquakes. Like so many others, they have also turned to their faith during the difficult time.
“We have been praying a lot,” said Sundblad.