MEXICO CITY (CNS) — Caritas chapters across Mexico have collected everything from canned goods to clothing for the victims of Hurricanes Ingrid and Manuel, which battered both coasts, cost more than 100 lives and left thousands homeless, incommunicado and possibly even buried beneath mudslides.
In the hard-hit state of Guerrero, to the south of Mexico City, the Diocese of Tlapa has opened shelters for the homeless residents of a marginalized region known as La Montana. The Archdiocese of Acapulco, in the same state, has turned parishes into support centers, provided spiritual support for victims and distributed more than 30 tons of supplies, according to a statement signed by Archbishop Carlos Garfias Merlos.
The shows of support from across Mexico highlight the generosity of the population and readiness to respond in times of crisis. But the widespread destruction and lack of preparation for such storms — which commonly call on coastal regions of Mexico — show other, unflattering faces: corruption, political expediency and a culture of not preparing for crises.
Church officials have both responded to the storms — which struck over the independence day weekend in mid-September — and rebuked corruption, which they say has played out in the form of public officials authorizing permits for construction in flood-prone areas.
“The solidarity of the people is something very visible,” said Father Jesus Mendoza, pastor of St. Nicholas of Bari Parish in Acapulco.
His parish, high above the tourist strip in Acapulco, survived the deluge of Manuel, but regions built on wetlands and flood-prone areas were soaked, wiping out the patrimonies of many people of modest means.
“What’s surfacing in these floods is widespread corruption on the part of the authorities, who have been in collusion with real estate companies, having done big business,” Father Mendoza said. “These immense rains flooded this area, which shouldn’t have been developed.”
Guerrero Gov. Angel Aguirre Rivero acknowledged the same Sept. 18, saying that developers “never stuck to a plan.”
Church officials in Acapulco responded to the floods by suspending many normal activities at parishes and focusing activities on the impacted areas. This meant providing material and spiritual support, Father Mendoza said.
“We looked to provide spiritual accompaniment to victims of the disaster,” he said.
“Various parishes have been seeing the shelters,” while priests have gone “to celebrate holy Mass, to pray with people, to spiritually strengthen the community.”
The support continues, along with the calamities.
Pope Francis donated $100,000 for the relief efforts through the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, the Mexican bishops’ conference said Sept. 29.
That same day, however, a parish in suburban Monterrey collapsed, killing one person and injuring about 20 others, local media reported. Officials blamed heavy rains.
Amid the rescue efforts, some churchmen could not stay silent on the issues they considered crucial to making the storms so destructive.
“While we can say that disasters seem to be by natural causes, the truth is that the consequences are due to human causes (which are) full of selfishness,” Auxiliary Bishop Enrique Diaz Diaz of San Cristobal de Las Casas said in a homily, posted on the bishops’ conference website Sept. 29.
“How many small shacks … have been reduced to nothing? It’s true, that (people) have lost little, but that little was all that they had. … Will we continue ignoring the Lazarus that waited for crumbs to fall from the table?”
Guerrero state officials said that at least 30,000 people have been displaced, the newspaper La Jornada reported.
Some dioceses, including Tlapa and, on the Gulf Coast, Tampico, have issued urgent pleas for support.
Father Mario Campos, a priest in the Diocese of Tlapa, said mudslides have left villages incommunicado and destroyed highways, making it difficult to deliver relief.
“We’re doing what we can with what little we have,” he said.
The federal government has promised to draw up prevention plans, but Father Mendoza said “imprudence” on the part of people to build in dangerous areas and disregard by officials for the rules aggravate the problem.
He said the call by the government reflects a tendency to act after the fact.
“We still don’t have a culture of prevention in everything. … The authorities don’t have this culture, either,” he said.
The priest also expressed frustration that politicians in Mexico focus more on “very visible” public works projects instead of a “collapsed” waterworks and sewers in Acapulco that would improve the day-to-day lives of ordinary people. In Acapulco, the focus has been tourism, which is the main industry and has drawn the most attention from public officials.
“Politicians and businessmen are saying already, ‘Acapulco is on its feet,’ that Acapulco is now ready to receive tourism because they’re thinking in economic terms. But they don’t think about families or the people,” Father Mendoza said.
“It’s very unpleasant to hear this discourse and, above all, the authorities’ attitudes in which we see they’re not interested in the well-being of the population, (but) rather their earnings,” he said.