Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Father Terry Tull takes an annual vacation to Brooklyn to visit family and friends. This year his trip has taken on a different role.
Staying at Our Lady of Perpetual Help rectory, Sunset Park, he has used his time to gather supplies such as batteries, water, and clothes to help out parishioners on the island who were affected by Hurricane Maria. He has also traveled to a several parishes to talk about the conditions in Puerto Rico and about his church of St. Anthony of Padua in Guayama.
Father Tull is an associate pastor at the parish, where he has been stationed for the last 12 years. He works closely with the youth, offers counseling to all members of the parish, and spent the last month carrying water and whatever supplies he could gather to people of need in his mountainside town. He oversees the parish as well as eight small chapels, many of which were severely damaged, especially from mudslides.
Local youth have begun cleaning out the chapels as best as they can.
“One of the first days I was able to get out I brought water and gave it to some of the youth of the village and without hesitation they brought it around and shared it with as many people as they could,” said Father Tull. “These are things that have to be done and everyone is responding.”
The priest’s mother and one brother live close by, but it took him several days to reach them as the roads were covered with debris from houses and trees. Luckily their homes were not severely damaged but they don’t have electricity or running water.
“When we finally were able to get to the houses in the countryside we brought them water and a few other supplies that we could gather,” he explained. “One woman told me the hurricane did bring some small blessings because the neighbors that don’t always agree with one another have reconciled and they have shared the food they have. They have worked together to clear the roads and their homes and have come together as one to help anyway they can.”
Another woman who lived in a small village by the mountain where about 80 homes were blown away was so happy to see Father Tull. “When I was finally able to get out there I saw this woman who is 85 years old and she was sitting where her home once was,” he said. “She said to me ‘I have God, I have the Virgin Mary, I have my community and I don’t need anything else.’ I pray for her everyday.”
St. Anthony of Padua Church sustained damage but is standing and welcoming all. The extent was flooding and some broken windows and outside gates that flew away. The town square where the church sits once had trees all around and a beautiful view up the mountain.
After Hurricane Maria, the trees have been uprooted and the mountainside has turned from green to brown as vegetation disappears.
“I spent the night of the storm in the church and I was only there with one other priest,” recalls Father Tull. “You could feel the strength of the storm as the walls were shaking. It felt like there were fists all over punching the walls and trying to get in.”
“The flooding was mainly on the third floor from rain coming through broken windows yet the main floor had no flooding. What was simple survived and what was strong was destroyed. It was a symbolic of knocking down the pride of the people,” he said.
“The hurricane took away any problems that were among people as now everyone is working together because we have all suffered in the same way.”
The city of Guayama, which has a population of a little over 45,000, is still without power and gas lines have just recently returned. One of the larger supermarkets imploded during the storm and many of the supplies that were inside were blown away. The local hospital is open and fully staffed even though it doesn’t have full power but is filled to capacity with people who need care. Supplies are running low and there is no communication with the outside.
“This storm has taken us back 100 years,” said Father Tull. “My mother who is 82 would tell us stories of how life was like when she was growing up, but now we are living it.
“Together we can rebuild. We need to trust in God and one another. God’s power will give the people power.”