Archdiocese reacts to quake, will hold special collection

BRIGHTON -- The emotional aftershock of the destructive Aug. 15 earthquake in Peru has been felt all over the world, including the Archdiocese of Boston. Many local Catholics are seeking ways to help as parishes participate in the archdiocese-wide special collection for relief efforts at weekend Masses Aug. 25-26.

At St. Patrick Parish in Stoneham, 16 teenagers and 9 chaperones returned on Aug. 8 from a two-week service trip to San Bartolo, Peru, and are now concerned for residents there. Buildings in the Lima province located south of the city sustained damage and some residents were killed.

Many of the teens wish they could return to help victims of the natural disaster, said Marco Desiderio, the youth minister who organized the parish’s first mission trip for teenagers.

“All the kids that went from our town said they wished that they were there now,” he said. “The kids come to me and they say, ‘How can we help? What can we do?’

Desiderio is in contact with priests from the Christian Life Movement, an international ecclesial movement founded in Lima in 1985. Many members of the religious community died in the recent earthquake, he said.

Those who remain are afraid of the aftershocks. Tremors that can reach more than 5.0 on the Richter scale occur four or five times daily. The original earthquake was a magnitude 7.9 and has killed at least 540 people, injured 1,500 and destroyed more than 85 percent of homes in some areas.

“They need more spiritual healing than anything at this time,” Desiderio said. “People are really terrified.”

Like the other parishes in the archdiocese, St. Patrick’s will participate in the second collection this weekend. Local Catholics are being called on to give as much as they can, according to a letter sent to parishes by Father Richard Erikson, vicar general and moderator of the curia.

Father Erikson said, “Your compassionate concern for the universal Church brings Christ’s light to people and places covered by a pall of darkness. Please help spread the radiant light of love through your generous support of this collection.”

Priests serving in South America through the Missionary Society of St. James the Apostle, founded 49 years ago by Cardinal Richard Cushing, have also been affected by the earthquake. Currently there are 22 priests serving in Peru with the society, though none are in areas hardest hit by last week’s quake.

In an Aug. 20 telephone interview, Father David Costello, a priest from Ireland who has served with the society since 2004, spoke of the effects of the quake and its aftershocks on his parish located on the east side of Lima.

“A number of roofs collapsed in the valley area of the parish,” said Father Costello. “In one particular case, a lady died as the wall of her house collapsed.”

The woman was trying to leave the house when the walls began to cave in, and she managed to save her granddaughter by throwing her own body over the girl’s. Many deaths have been caused by heart attacks, and the exact number of people who died remains unclear, he added.

Celebrating the first Sunday vigil Mass after the earthquake, tremors caused half of the 250 worshippers to run out of the church, he said.

“A lot of people were crying and just generally very afraid,” he said.

With the help of Caritas Confederation, parishes all over Peru are donating two weekends of collections to those in the areas that suffered the most damage. They are also collecting clothes and blankets for quake victims.

“The poor people themselves are very anxious to help their brothers and sisters in the more affected areas. We were very fortunate in Lima that the devastation wasn’t worse,” said Father Costello.

Another priest serving in Peru through the St. James Society, Father Kevin Hays, has first-hand experience with a devastating earthquake. Visiting Boston since June, Father Hays told The Pilot that he was in the streets of Moquegua, Peru when an 8.4 magnitude earthquake rocked the city in 2001. In the area, 80 percent of all structures were destroyed.

Father Hays said that it was a traumatic experience and hard to describe. Residents knew the quake was coming about 20 seconds in advance.

“You hear them coming first,” he said. “With a quake of that intensity, people need to hold onto each other just to remain standing because the ground is moving so violently.”

The first step after the trembling subsided was to help people make temporary housing and sleeping arrangements for the evening. In the days following, aftershocks -- 25 of which were over a 5.0 magnitude -- continued, and the work of burying the dead began, he said.

Within a week, the first shipment of food arrived and tent cities had been put up, he said.

“Everybody was living outside, including myself,” said Father Costello.

Reconstruction began two months after the earthquake and continues, six years later. Uninhabitable hillsides are still covered in debris, he said.

The people too are still recovering, he added.

“In a spiritual way, I think we’re still getting over it,” he said. “Schoolteachers in particular talk about the trauma for the kids. They are afraid to be alone.”

AP materials contributed to this report