By Ed Wilkinson and Melissa Enaje
While Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio celebrated Mass Oct. 20 for those on the island of Puerto Rico who had been affected by Hurricane Maria, he explained that the prayers were also being offered for the other Caribbean islands, Mexico and parts of the United States that have suffered because of recent storms.
The bishop was the main celebrant at the Mass at St. Joseph’s Co-Cathedral, Prospect Heights. He was joined at the altar by Auxiliary Bishops Octavio Cisneros and James Massa, and Father Freddy Cintron, a Brooklyn pastor of Puerto Rican descent who preached the homily.
“Today, many of our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico are suffering from lack of food, water, and other resources,” said Father Cintron, pastor of St. Catharine of Alexandria parish, Borough Park. “There is fear and anxiety with regards to the future.
“We can reassure our brothers and sisters of our prayers, food supplies and other resources that are needed, that they are not alone. We are here today as one family, to convey to our Hermanos Boricua and to re-echo with our lives and example the words of Jesus, ‘Do not be afraid.’ He is with us through others, and love is present, and that is where God is to be found.”
Father Cintron explained that Christian love implies sharing in the suffering of others.
“There is something in our Baptismal DNA that compels us to reach out to others. It is Christ who is with us and within us that calls us forth to suffer with one another,” he said.
Unlike the Bette Midler song that says “God is watching from a distance,” Father Cintron said, “We cannot love from a distance. To love is to encounter the other as they are and freely give of ourselves to be of service to them.”
Visible in the congregation because of their signature red berets was a contingent of Guardian Angels, the neighborhood watch group that patrols troubled areas. They had made a donation to the diocesan relief efforts.
Leading the delegation of Guardian Angels was Arnoldo Salinas, a founding member of the group, who was born in New York but raised in Puerto Rico.
Having just returned from a mercy mission to the island, he said, “My eyes have seen too much and my heart is heavy. I’ve seen shells of homes.”
Salinas said that the Guardian Angels also set up a pen pal system between New York school children and those in Puerto Rico.
“We’re taking cards back down to the kids,” he said, so that they know other people are thinking about them.
Evelyn Morales Pagan, who attends Holy Spirit Church, Borough Park, was at the Mass to pray for members of her family, who live on different parts of the island.
She took off from work to attend the Mass at St. Joseph’s and she hopes to visit Puerto Rico in a few months.
“We’ve been impacted, but thank God there was no loss of life for our family, but nevertheless we have still suffered because other people have passed on and it affected us all,” she said.
She said her family decided to stay during the storm “because they have jobs, and they can’t just pick up and leave their jobs. Some companies have been helpful. I have a cousin who works for Bristol-Myers and they offered to send my aunt here free of charge, but she refused to come. So a lot of them are really staying and they’re picking up the pieces. They don’t want to pick up and leave.
“Seeing the images, it’s just heartbreaking. Thank God for the private sectors, the not-for-profits – they’re the ones who delivered food and emergency care before the government even did so we thank them tremendously, especially a non-profit called ViequesLove.
“Immediately after the storm, it sent out emergency care, planes. They even took people out that needed cancer treatments and brought them to New York.
“God bless everyone who helped and donated. We still need help.”
Evelyn’s mother, Josefina Pagan, said that her three siblings live in Puerto Rico and everyone is okay.
“I have a broken heart because it really affected a lot of people, especially the people that live outside of San Juan,” said Josefina.
“I have family in Bayamon and Toa Alta. They don’t mention them too much but anytime I look at the news, I have tears in my eyes. Where she lives isn’t that bad compared to other parts of the island.”
She said that her sister told her the water was coming back, but electricity will take time.
“I wish that everything was over. It’s sad, we have to pray for all these people and hopefully they have to go on. I just feel sorry for the ones who have nothing.”
“I love to pray for Puerto Rico and not only Puerto Rico, I pray for California now with the fires and all the small islands, Florida, but I pray for all of them, especially all the children, they can’t even go to school.”
Daughter Evelyn added that Father Cintron’s homily particularly touched her heart.
“Unity in prayer is what kept us with the faith,” she said.
“Knowing that Papa Diosito is blessing us and protecting us. We’re grateful and faith has kept us strong.
“Prayer is the answer for everything and faith. As long as we have faith, that’s what keeps us strong.”
Prior to the Mass, Bishop DiMarzio told Currents TV news that his message was one of hope.
“Everything can be resolved,” he said. “We can’t lose hope. Material things can be replaced. But it will take time. It will take effort and it will take money.
“When life is lost, it’s difficult but we know that there is eternal life.”