By Jorge I. Dominguez-Lopez | Catholic News Service
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (CNS) — Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, New York, made a one-day trip to Puerto Rico to show solidarity, bring hope and provide some material help.
Their Oct. 30 visit to San Juan was yet another example of the support New Yorkers have offered to the people of Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria devastated the island.
Traveling with the prelates were Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities of the New York Archdiocese, and Wanda Vasquez, director of the archdiocese’s Hispanic pastoral ministry.
“Our purpose first is to bring solidarity,” said Bishop DiMarzio at San Juan Cathedral. “We come to help the church here.”
“We come because there are many Puerto Ricans in our dioceses,” he said about the Brooklyn Diocese and the New York Archdiocese. “And they are concerned about their place of origin. So we come to bring some material help but also to bring some solidarity, hope. And to better understand the situation so we can get them the help that they need.”
The visit started with a Mass at the San Juan Cathedral, the seat of the first diocese of the New World.
Before the liturgy, Cardinal Dolan and Bishop DiMarzio, guided by Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves of San Juan, toured the cathedral and stopped to pray at the tomb of Cardinal Luis Aponte, the only Puerto Rican ever named a cardinal and Archbishop Gonzalez’s predecessor. They also prayed in front of the relics of Blessed Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, the first Puerto Rican to be beatified.
Cardinal Dolan, the main celebrant and homilist at the Mass, reminded the congregation that beyond the solidarity all Christians should offer to his brothers and sisters in times of crisis, he also was there because Archbishop Gonzalez is “a dear friend.”
During an interview after Mass, he explained, “Archbishop Gonzalez, we love him. He used to be a parish priest in the Bronx. And he said to me about two weeks ago, ‘We feel alone and forgotten.’ I said, ‘Well, we are coming to see you. That’s what neighbors do, that’s what the Bible tells us to do, that’s what Holy Mother Church wants us to do.’ So Bishop DiMarzio and I said, ‘Let’s go visit Roberto.’”
Asked about his impressions of the island, he said, “The first impression would be the friendliness, the resilience, the welcoming of the people. With all the challenges and difficulties they have been through, they haven’t lost their sense of hope.”
The prelates later visited the headquarters of Caritas Puerto Rico, the equivalent of Catholic Charities on the island. That organization will receive and distribute a significant part of the $700,000 brought by the Archdiocese of New York and the $115,000 sent by the Diocese of Brooklyn.
They toured the facilities with Father Enrique Camacho, director of Caritas Puerto Rico, and held a news conference together with Archbishop Gonzalez and Msgr. Sullivan.
Later, they went to a mountaintop on the outskirts of San Juan where the National Shrine of Our Lady of Providence will be built. A gigantic metal cross and a life-size Way of the Cross can be seen at the site.
The last stop of the quick nonstop schedule was at the Carmelo de San Jose, a cloistered convent in the Trujillo Alto municipality. The 1970s Brutalist-style convent endured the full impact of Hurricane Maria.
After singing “Salve Regina” at the chapel, the visitors talked with the nuns. Several of them are over age 80. They told the bishops how they spent hours in their cells alone in the dark, while the hurricane blasted their convent.
Both Cardinal Dolan and Bishop DiMarzio spoke with evident emotion about their love and respect for cloistered nuns. The cardinal explained that part of the assistance they had brought was to repair damages the convent suffered during Hurricane Maria.
Two of the younger Carmelite nuns sang a song in honor of the visitors. The rhythm was 100 percent Puerto Rican. In the lyrics, they thanked Archbishop Gonzalez for bringing the prelates to the convent