By Christopher White
The Tablet National Correspondent
As Puerto Rico continues to rebuild following the devastating effect of hurricanes Maria and Irma, the Catholic University of America announced that it would welcome undergraduates currently enrolled in college or university programs on the island to come to Washington, D.C., for the spring 2018 semester at no cost.
John Garvey, President of Catholic University, said that the announcement was a continuation of the University’s ongoing efforts to provide tangible aid to hurricane victims in Puerto Rico.
“Throughout the fall semester, our university community has provided assistance to our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico and to our students with ties there,” said Garvey.
“Inspired by the example of Pope Francis and our bishops, we wanted to make a more significant impact by offering our support during the spring semester,” Garvey said. “We believe the best support we can provide is a welcoming community where students can continue their academic pursuits.”
The university will accept up to 40 students, who must register for a minimum of three courses. Eligible students will also be able to seek on-campus housing, although standard fees will apply.
Just last week the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops called on U.S. Catholics not to forget those suffering in Puerto Rico.
“It has become clear that the people of Puerto Rico face an unprecedented level of need as a result of those devastating storms,” said Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida, chair of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Archbishop Paul Etienne of Anchorage, Alaska and chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee on Catholic Home Missions.
“Meaningful action must address both the immediate and long-term needs of the Puerto Rican population,” they said.
“The island is in the midst of a public health crisis, and food security, health care access, and sustainable alleviation of the island’s debt are challenges that must be resolved in a comprehensive way,” Bishop Dewane and Archbishop Etienne said. “These will require great effort and significant contributions of financial resources and material assistance.”
Their statement was released just one day after a pastoral visit to the island by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn.
Six weeks after Hurricane Maria, a majority of the island’s 3.4 million residents are still without power and an overwhelming majority of its schools remain closed indefinitely.
While several universities and colleges in the U.S. are offering free tuition to displaced students, including Brown, Cornell, and schools in the SUNY and CUNY networks, the Catholic University of America is the first Catholic institution to do so.
Garvey told The Tablet that in some ways, this initiative is part of Pope Francis’ “Share the Journey” campaign to show greater welcome to refugees.
“Pope Francis has challenged us to Share the Journey with people seeking a better life. We might only be a short part of these students’ journey, but every chapter matters,” he said.
Over 30 currently enrolled students from the Catholic University of America hail from Puerto Rico. Following the events of the recent hurricanes, the University has also announced that proceeds from the upcoming University concerts at the National Shrine will benefit hurricane victims.