After Noel’s fury

By  Fr. Mike Traher, SFM, Catholic Register Special
  • November 19, 2007
HurricaneNoel.jpgExperiencing the power and fury of a hurricane is unforgettable. On Oct. 30 the Dominican Republic tasted the wrath of hurricane Noel whose powerful winds and rains swept up from the Caribbean, striking a devastating blow to that country’s central region.

Located along the affected south-central coast is the diocese of Bani, an area with a long history of Canadian missionaries serving its people. To the west of Bani is a road that leads north, passing by picturesque valleys while hugging the sides of mountains on its way to the town San Jose de Ocoa. Noel passed this way too.

“Ocoens” still remember hurricane David and its devastation in the early 1990s. This time, however, though there were fewer deaths the people were saying, “this Noel is worse than David.” Shortly after the initial shock of Noel had subsided a survey was taken by ADESJO, a church-based local committee which has managed many development projects for years in the area of Ocoa.

The committee initially identified 2,800 families that were hit hardest by the hurricane. Those families were asking for mattresses, blankets, clothing, tents and other basic items to enable them to persevere over the next few months. The report revealed damages that would have a staggering effect on these and other farming families and whole communities, whose lives depend daily on growing and harvesting food and caring for their animals.

The report found that among the 2,800 affected families (16,800 people) 597 homes will need to be rebuilt and repairs made to 400 kilometres of road, 80 irrigation aqueducts, 35 water reservoirs for irrigation and 25 greenhouses. Some 125 families will need new plastic water tanks for the homes and fertilizers for replanting their decimated grain and vegetable farms.

Essential bridges and whole sections of roadways were wiped out by the energy of Noel’s huge volumes of water that had raced down normally quiet river beds and canals. Drinking water itself has become a concern, along with the movement of emergency supplies and people in need of medical care.

But statistics do not tell the whole story. Scarboro Missions has been working with the generous, gentle people of the Dominican Republic for more than 75 years, and we know them well. We also know that it takes years for the people to recover from a hurricane like Noel. Along with other Canadian missionaries in to the area, diocesan clergy and lay leaders, we are counting on the generosity of Canadian Catholics  help us help the people of Ocoa and other affected parish areas in the diocese of Bani.

In a twist of irony less than two weeks prior to Noel, the people of Ocoa had just mourned the loss of their beloved pastor, Scarboro missionary Fr. Lou Quinn. On the same roads where they had come down in the thousands in mid-October, dressed in their Sunday best to greet the arrival of his body, they now stood wondering when things will be well again.

Many of their homes, the extensive irrigation systems and the hundreds of kilometres of mountain roads which serve them are all part of the amazing legacy of “Padre Luis.” His entire life as a priest, 42 of those years in Ocoa, was dedicated to helping the poor have a better life. His funeral on Oct. 19 was attended by well over 25,000 people from the mountains and the town, included major heads of church and state in the Dominican Republic.

The people of Ocoa have learned much from Padre Luis Quinn, especially to believe in themselves as he did. He taught them that united together they will continue to share a hope-filled vision of life. Where  faith and action are woven together for the sake of each other and their neighbour a true glimpse of  the Kingdom of God is seen by all.

Help us to support the affected peoples of Ocoa and the diocese of Bani in their time of need. We know that they will be grateful for your support. Your donations will be channeled directly to those in need through Canadian Catholic missionaries working in the diocese of Bani, Dominican Republic.

(Fr. Traher is vicar general of the Scarboro Foreign Missions based in Toronto. For more information on how to help the people of the Dominican Republic, contact 1-800-260-4815 or e-mail mid@scarboromissions.ca.)

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