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Huge rocks and other debris block the path to homes following the passage of Hurricane Maria. Photo: Msgr William John-Lewis

Bishop Malzaire: ‘We will build…and rise again’

by Kaelanne Jordan, kjordan.camsel@rcpos.org

Bishop Gabriel Malzaire of Roseau said since the passing of Hurricane Maria, September 18, many Dominicans have found the need to migrate to neighbouring islands and other countries further afield for schooling while others are simply moving away for fear of the prospects of a daunting future. For those who remain, he said, the need to get in rebuilding mode is urgent and the diocese will need all the will power they can muster.

“As the relief supplies come in and people’s psychological and physiological needs are satisfied, we can move to the next level of nation building,” the bishop said in a YouTube address titled ‘Post Hurricane Maria’ dated October 8 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NU3cuWwWjFw)

In the seven- minute recording, the bishop said the lessons to be learned from Maria are more than meets the naked eye. “Whatever it is for each person, one thing remains true, anyone who has experienced Maria cannot be the same. It is another way of saying that the worse that could happen to us as persons or as a people is not having learnt anything from Maria.”

Bishop Malzaire said the need to work together to rebuild looms high and the need to think of neighbour and not only self is a basic human Christian principle. The old adage of ‘United we stand; divided we fall’ he said, “Certainly rings true in this situation more than ever before.”

He said in a situation such as theirs, it is very easy for one to question the theological implications of such an event; to ask why a good God permits such incurrence. “Somehow we never seem to pose the question when it happens in Florida, or in Haiti, or the typhoon in India. Only when the situation comes home are we forced to consider them hoping to find a legitimate answer,” he said.

The bishop, cognisant that it is easy to move to the “next fresh crisis” beseeched the faithful: “We will need you and we will be needing you in the next milieu. So stay with us for that while,” he said.

Bishop Malzaire shared that he got a bird’s eye view of the island, September 25 when he visited 9 of the 15 parishes in the diocese. Of the remaining six parishes, he noted three were still inaccessible by road, but by now conditions have improved due to some road clearing by the government.

The purpose of the visit, he said, was to get a firsthand knowledge of the extent of the damage in each parish and to set up some structures in the parish for the distribution of the relief supplies received from donors. Of his findings, the bishop said it was the first time one was able to see clearly from one mountain ridge to another.

“It was as if the entire island was scooped by Maria’s breath. Every bit of greenery was gone. Even the tree barks had been blown off every tree by the force of the wind of Maria. The once lush tropical forest reduced to miles unending of battered twigs, giant tree trunks turned into missiles that shattered concrete walls and stacked themselves inside and across some buildings as if a deliberate project,” he said.

However, in spite of the signs of desperation and despair in the eyes of many, he acknowledged a strong sense of resilience and determination especially in the outlying parishes. “They seem to be exclaiming, ‘We will build back, we will rise again’. There was a clear indication in the disposition of many that they refused to be daunted by the effects of Maria. People were mending their broken homes, putting up tarpaulins, setting up temporary shelters just to satisfy their immediate needs. The street clean-up which seemed like an impossible task especially in the capital city of Roseau is beginning to show signs of success. The return of pipe-borne water in some parts of the city is yet another glimmer of hope,” he said.

The bishop expressed gratitude to the many groups and organisations who came to the diocese’s aid with the shipments of many relief items namely volunteers from the Living Water Community in Trinidad and St Lucia, Caritas Internationalis’ volunteers from St Lucia, Catholic Relief Services of the United States, the United Christian Foundation, the Diocese of Bridgetown, Barbados, Food for the Poor of Florida, local volunteers, the truck drivers and handlers who have been assisting in emptying the containers on the port, transporting them to a storage area and packaging for distribution to the various parishes.

Bishop Malzaire paraphrased the words of a well-known contemporary hymn: ‘We as a people can never lose hope, we will never lose our joy, we will continue to cling to our faith, but most of all we will never lose our praise.’
He affirmed, “Our God has brought us through the storm; He will lead us to the light. With these words of encouragement we move forward full of confidence that it will be alright in the morning with the unfailing help of God and the continued support of all our friends near and far.”