Cardinal Cupich visits Puerto Rico on behalf of Pope Francis

By Chicago Catholic
Thursday, December 7, 2017

Cardinal Cupich talks to the Dominican Sisters of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima after presenting a $40,000 check to them Dec. 4 in Guanica, Puerto Rico. The funds were raised by members of St. Anne’s Parish in Barrington in partnership with Catholic Extension to help poor communities throughout Puerto Rico. (CNS photo/Rich Kalonick, Catholic Extension)

Cardinal Cupich made a pastoral visit to Puerto Rico Dec 3-6 on behalf of Pope Francis to share his concern for the island devastated by Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria in September. He met with local bishops, religious men and women and toured the devastation. 

“When the Holy Father asked me to share his concern with the people of Puerto Rico, our fellow Americans, I was honored and pleased to do so,” Cardinal Cupich told reporters during a press conference in Chicago Dec. 1. “As Mayor Rahm Emanuel noted earlier this week, the Archdiocese of Chicago through Catholic Charities … has been working with the city and other organizations to coordinate the resettlement of evacuees there. We also are sending aid directly to the island and I hope to visit with those on the ground working to distribute those items — everything from chainsaws to diapers. This person-to-person outreach does more than deliver needed supplies. In all of this we are reassuring the people of Puerto Rico as they struggle to maintain their dignity amid 18th-century conditions following the hurricanes that their neighbors to the north care about them and we pray for them.” 

While there, the cardinal reviewed the work being done by the Chicago-based papal mission society Catholic Extension, such as Hogar Infantil Santa Tersita del Niño Jesus, a home for neglected and abused children built by the organization. The cardinal is chancellor of Catholic Extension. 

He also visited Las Hermanas Dominicas de Nuestra Señora del Rosario de Fátima in Mayagüez, and presented the religious sisters with a $40,000 check from St. Anne Parish in Barrington and Catholic Extension.

One of the Chicagoans on the ground in Puerto Rico helping is Deacon Ramon Echevarria.

It was only a couple of weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico that Echevarria retired from his position as business manager at St. Mark Parish and felt called to help the people on the storm-ravaged island.

“Since I retired in November, I decided that my ordination really meant a lot to me,” Echevarria said. He thought, “‘Here I am Lord. Is it I Lord? I will go Lord, I will hold your people in my heart.’ And I said, ‘I need to go hold my people.’”

Now with faculties both in the Archdiocese of Chicago and in the Diocese of Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, Echevarria is doing his best to help people recover from the storms.

Echevarria collected money and goods from churches in Chicago and he, along with his sister, Carmen, and his brother-in-law, Deacon Victor Rosado, have been distributing them to the people they find in towns away from the main roads.

“We have been going to the hills and to the areas where the vehicles can barely make it,” Echevarria said. “We have been in places in my brother-in-law’s vehicle where it has tilted almost sideways.”

While some power and water have been restored, that’s not the case for everyone, he said, and many houses have no roofs. In some cases, they have no walls, either.

“We have seen so many things,” Echevarria said. “Sick people and newborns. In a little over a month that we’ve been doing this, we have found three newborns that have nothing. Just the clothes that they have and their mothers. We found one yesterday who is 12 days old now. We found another one three weeks old and the first one we found was born three weeks after the hurricane. Those are the youngest people we’ve found, while the oldest we’ve encountered is 96 years old. ... Any house that I see that has no roof on it, I will stop there. Because I know I am going to find somebody who is suffering there.

“Anyone who owned a house or built a wooden house is totally devastated. It’s way too much. There have been so many times that I’ve had to stop myself from crying because, I say, ‘I came here to support you, not to make you cry.’ Sure, I turn around, and I cry on my own. Or when I do my morning prayer or evening prayer, I go home not to sleep, but to cry by myself.”

Echevarria said stores in Mayagüez are open and have household goods to sell, so the best way people can help is to give money, he said, perhaps through parish collections. 

About half of the donations he brought came from Blessed Sacrament Parish, where he has been assigned as a deacon, and a significant percentage came from St. Mark, where he was business manager.

“At the beginning it was hard to get all that merchandise, but now they are loaded with merchandise,’ Echevarria said. “Now I’ve even seen Christmas decorations. For a while I thought it was not going to be happening, but now I go to the store at 8, 9, 10 o’clock at night, and I can barely get in. I go to Walmart, at 2 o’clock in the morning it’s loaded with people. People have told me, ‘we’re having Christmas, with or without light.’” 


  • catholic extension
  • hurricane
  • puerto rico

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