The month of September 2017 will not be easy to forget for the Mexican people. Two earthquakes which struck just 12 days apart, on the 7th and 19th of September, left thousands of families torn apart, 471 people dead and over 12 million otherwise affected. Most victims were in the city of Mexico itself, but there were also many in other states, such as Cuernavaca, Oaxaca and Puebla. We still retain vivid memories of buildings collapsing like a house of cards, of roads and bridges destroyed – and at the same time we recall the solidarity shown by this country in drawing on all its resources and tirelessly searching for survivors amid the ruins.

But now, in this country that has been struck once again by a natural disaster, “The aid measures for the reconstruction of Mexico have been confused and inadequate and the people affected are still registering their dissatisfaction at the fact that the administrative procedures for securing aid to rebuild their homes have been slow and far from clear”, explains Julieta Appendini, the director of the Mexican national office of the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) in Mexico City.

For its part, the Mexican Bishops’ Conference has identified 1,850 Catholic churches that have suffered varying degrees of damage in 26 dioceses. 1,603 of these are officially the property of the state, which means that it is the government which is responsible for rebuilding and repairing them – and that it is therefore impossible for the Church authorities to intervene. These include 17 cathedrals, 4 basilicas, 44 shrines, 76 convents and monasteries, 226 smaller churches and chapels, 31 parish offices or presbyteries, 11 seminaries 1,411 parish buildings and 30 large buildings still in the process of being assessed. It is estimated that it will take between three and six years to repair them all.

Those churches and chapels that do not belong to the state are now in the process of being repaired or rebuilt under the responsibility of the Mexican Bishops’ Conference and with the help of international agencies such as ACN which – after providing initial emergency aid to 23 local communities in the municipal areas of San Mateo del Mar and Unión Hidalgo in Oaxaca (where communities of up to 10,000 people were forced to seek refuge in adjoining territories after their own homes had been totally destroyed) – is now continuing its aid with church rebuilding projects. Work is already in progress on repairing the convent of the Poor Clare Missionaries of the most Blessed Sacrament (Misioneras Clarisas del Santísimo Sacramento) in Cuernavaca, which had to be to largely demolished following the earthquake. And likewise on the convents of two other congregations of religious sisters – the church of the Bienaventuranzas in Puebla and the mother house and ancient chapel of the Disciples of Jesus the Good Shepherd (Discípulas de Jesús Buen Pastor).

 

“I was in Jojutla, one of the places most severely devastated in the country”, recalls Julieta Appendini. “I heard the story of Mario, a little boy who was left dumb for several days after the earthquake after living through the tragedy that struck his school. His mother took him to the church, which was still standing, to give thanks to God that they were still alive. And on seeing the statue of Jesus, the first words that Mario spoke were: ‘That is the man who saved our lives. He held up the building and told us to get out and waited until we were all outside, and after that the building collapsed.’ I believe that in such moments of great tragedy it is God who always accompanies us and gives us the strength to go on. That is why it is so important for them to rebuild their churches”, the national director of ACN Mexico reiterated.

In total, ACN has so far helped with five different projects in five dioceses, giving a total of 150,000 Euros. And it is currently evaluating another reconstruction project in the diocese of Cuernavaca, which was close to the epicentre of the second earthquake on 19 September 2017.