ORLANDO | After shredding the Bahamas mercilessly with torrential rains and savage winds, Hurricane Dorian skirted the Florida coast, leaving the Diocese of Orlando relatively unscathed. The Carolinas were less fortunate. Central Floridians give thanks and are mobilizing to assist both the Bahamas and the Carolinas with the help of Catholic Charities of Central Florida.
As expected, emergency food and water were brought to the Bahamas by the Red Cross and Catholic Charities followed. Prior to the hurricane, the Southeast region partners (North and South Carolinas, Florida, Georgia, Virginia) and Catholic Charities of Florida directors discussed Dorian’s projected path, where it would go and what they would do.
“Now that we know we’ve been spared and that the Carolinas have been hit, we can talk about what kind of aid we can extend to the Carolinas,” said Gary Tester, president of Catholic Charities of Central Florida. “That can come in the form of mutual aid, where we can dispatch supplies we’ve gathered here through our state efforts. We can ship supplies up to the Carolinas and/or to the Bahamas. Depending on the weather, we may also allocate staff.”
After Hurricane Michael, Catholic Charities sent Ken White, director of Agape Mission Markets in Polk County, to assist the state emergency management specialist for the Florida Catholic Conference in determining logistical distribution of supplies. Tester is prepared do so again, if necessary.
Additionally, seven locations throughout the diocese are being prepared to be collection sites for donations.
“We are working on the logistics with each parish to help them with the collection parameters they can manage best and then we’ll be sharing those lists on our website,” Tester said. He anticipates the first shipments heading to the Bahamas will not go out until Oct. 1 due to the massive devastation sustained by the islands, leaving no safe place for planes to land and many areas unreachable, even by boat. The U.S. Coast Guard is limiting flights and ships into the Bahama islands. Circumstances are making possible storage locations difficult to determine.
“The delay is okay because they (Bahamas) don’t have the logistics in place to take emergency items in and store them, so we are looking at the longer term needs to get this group of islands back up and functioning.” Tester said although relief will be ongoing for months, “I can comfortably say it will be years.”
Tester is advocating cash donations because people on the ground can best determine what they most need and then buy those supplies. They can also tend to needs as they change over time. Yet he assures that “everything helps.”
The Bahamas is a Catholic Relief Services site. Tester indicated Catholic Relief Services will rely on Catholic Charities USA for assistance. Because of its proximity to the U.S., the Archdiocese of Miami and Catholic Charities regularly work in the Bahamas, therefore the southeastern region also helps “direct cash and supplies to the Bahamas, working with the Archbishop and his staff there,” said Tester.
Floridians may find comfort in donating and being spared of the hurricane’s effects, but Father Anthony Aarons, chaplain for Catholic Charities of Central Florida and a Missionary of Mercy appointed by Pope Francis, noted such crises often cause many Christians to question God’s presence. He encouraged people to recall Prayer #37 of the Collect, For an End to Storms. It says, “We humbly entreat you, that the stilling of fearsome storms may turn a powerful menace into an occasion for us to praise you.” Many heard the prayer during Mass the weekend prior to Hurricane Dorian’s Florida arrival. Father Aarons said this is “the first thing we who have been spared must do.”
He added, “Sometimes, we hear people say, ‘Oh, our prayers were answered.’ Then we could ask ourselves, does that mean that the prayers of the people of the Bahamas were not answered?” He assures, “It is a matter of knowing that, no matter what happens to us, God is still in control. We, who are believing people, will show them that God is still in control.”
In a Mass held at Catholic Charities Sept. 6, he told employees they will be witnesses by being “the face of Christ in this crisis.” Our prayers and donations will also reveal Christ’s hands and feet. To do so, Bishop John Noonan has called for a Disaster Relief Collection. “We are called to assist our brothers and sisters in the Bahamas and those who may be faced with the loss of their worldly possessions or economic livelihood,” he said. “The isolation and fear caused by storms can be overwhelming. We can bring them comfort as the body of Christ.”