Parishes remain active in outreach, prayer
October 10, 2017
Cynthia Rangel, a parishioner at the Catholic Charismatic Center in Houston, organizes bags of beans and other hurricane relief items at the Navidad Center in East Houston. Photo by James Ramos/Herald.
HOUSTON — More than a month after Hurricane Harvey made landfall, thousands of families in Galveston-Houston are in the midst of recovery, many still seeking help and hope.
In the aftermath of the storm, Catholic parishes in the Archdiocese — including those directly affected by Harvey — have done their best to provide both as church communities mobilize to assist any and all in need.
While the campus at Most Holy Trinity in Angleton was spared from the destruction of Harvey, many families in the area were not, including hundreds of households in communities in and around Brazoria County.
The parish is located only two blocks from a shelter receiving a large number of families following the storm but unable to accept donations of food and clothing. Most Holy Trinity was able to step up and assist in that role.
“We turned our parish hall into a donation center and many people came to volunteer and sort the donations,” said Father Victor Perez, pastor. “It was amazing how many people donated from around the county and even from out of state.”
Father Perez said it has been a blessing for his parish to serve in this way and help those desperately looking for assistance.
“Our volunteers created a system and organized it all very well,” he said.
Recently, Most Holy Trinity partnered with San José Clinic to provide basic healthcare services through the parish’s primary outreach facility, the St. Thomas Center. San José Clinic, a member of the Texas Medical Center and a ministry of the Archdiocese, is the leading charity care provider of healthcare services for the underserved in the Greater Houston area.
“It really has been God providing the opportunities to serve through generous people to bring some good out of this difficult time,” Father Perez said.
‘Our parish community is suffering’
Gina Esquivel, who works in social services at St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Houston, said the parish estimates that approximately 4,500 of their families were impacted by the storm.
“A lot of our parish community is suffering,” Esquivel said. “Many families suffered total loss on houses and cars. Some lost days of work and thus lost income. Our undocumented community is in great need. They don’t qualify for FEMA and have to seek other avenues providing assistance so that they can rebuild.”
Despite the storm, “families remain hopeful,” she added. “It’s beautiful to see people who have lost everything still help others who are in need.”
On Aug. 30, St. Leo the Great opened its doors for people to temporarily have somewhere safe to stay while their family members could come get them and seek shelter.
“We were a safe way for people to reconnect with family members,” Esquivel said.
St. Leo the Great houses an active St. Vincent de Paul food pantry that operated every day after Harvey to help families. Last month, the parish also served as a St. Vincent de Paul Recovery Assistance Center (P-RAC) and have been collaborating with the Knight of Columbus and other organizations. In the course of two weeks as a P-RAC, the parish was able to assist approximately 1,500 families.
St. Leo the Great also received support and donations from communities around the state and beyond — including volunteer groups who traveled from as far as Los Angeles, Oklahoma and Kansas.
“Our community’s faith is strong,” Esquivel said. “Families look forward to rebuilding and returning to their homes.”
Surrounded by water
Due to the slowly subsiding floodwaters in the Energy Corridor of west Houston, St. John Vianney Catholic Church community is deep in recovery and cleanup mode. The parish estimates that more than 20 percent of their community was impacted by Harvey, including more than 2,000 homes in their immediate surrounding neighborhoods.
Last month, an official FEMA Disaster Recover Center (DRC) location was established St. John Vianney. As of Sept. 28, the DRC had served over 1,300 households. In addition, St. John Vianney also opened a free supply and clothing center at the parish. State Senator Paul Bettencourt, State Representatives Jim Murphy and Mike Scofield, all parishioners of St. John Vianney, were instrumental in working with state and local officials to establish the FEMA DRC at the parish.
Following the storm, Father Troy Gateley, pastor, collaborated with Centerpoint Energy officials to use the parish facility to build a mobile temporary substation (their permanent substation, located directly behind the parish, was destroyed by flood waters). This mobile substation is now located in the parish’s northwest parking lot and helps to power over 5,000 households in the area.
Parish staff said the support of St. John Vianney parishioners has been tremendous, with approximately 1,000 volunteers assisting with house cleaning, making and delivery food and helping in the supply center and food pantry.
In addition, the parish community coordinated outreach efforts with the parish’s Knights of Columbus (Memorial Council #6527) and other local Knights, social service organizations (including Catholic Charities) and Archdiocesan parishes. Similar to St. Leo the Great, volunteer efforts and supplies came from various other states, near and far.
One of the Archdiocesan parishes collaborating with St. John Vianney was St. Faustina Catholic Church. Countless families and homes in Fort Bend County near the Fulshear parish were affected by the floodwaters of Harvey.
Called to help
“In time of suffering, the out pour of heroic love and generosity among the general community is incredible,” said Father Dat Hoang, St. Faustina pastor. “I experienced in a very profound way everyone’s desire and need to ‘do something’, to serve others in their suffering. When I was visiting the shelters ministering to the evacuees, I was so inspired to see many of our parishioners serving and volunteering selflessly.”
Shortly after the storm cleared, St. Faustina Church opened a donation drive at the parish which had to shut down in less than three hours because of the overwhelming response; the parish simply ran out of space to store the food, clothing and supplies.
“We tried to focus our response on prayers and actions,” Father Hoang said. “Outside of prayers at Mass, we did a 1,000 Divine Mercy Chaplets drive to pray for the safety and well-being of first responders, volunteers and those affected by the flood.”
The week after the flood when evacuees were beginning to return to their flooded homes, finding volunteers was challenging as people were starting to return to work.
“I extended an invitation and a number of our parishioners generously sacrificed a week of vacation,” Father Hoang said. Every day, the St. Faustina volunteers started the day with Adoration and Mass and then divided into teams to go out and help with demolition and clean-up work.
“I told my people that Jesus smells like mold, so let’s go and look for Him as we help out in those houses,” Father Hoang said. “The work was hard and challenging but rewarding as we were inspired by the people we served.”
The road to recovery can be long and difficult but there is always hope, Father Hoang said.
“Many of our brothers and sisters have experienced traumatic loss and suffering and it’s heartbreaking,” he said. “We have to persevere in prayers, encouragement and solidarity as we serve and walk with one another. Above all, we can help each other to discover the meaning and purpose of suffering so as to gain for us, through these trials, the Heavenly treasure that all the worldly money and possession can never buy. This is the time of mercy in action as when we are called to live out the great commandment to love one another.”
Recovery in Galveston-Houston will take years. The Archdiocese is committed to helping parishioners and the greater community get back on their feet through the Archdiocesan Harvey Relief Fund. Donate today.