Send a donation to aid Chilean earthquake victims

To make a donation to help earthquake victims, send your check, made payable to “Maryland Province Jesuits Fund” to Maryland Province Jesuits Fund,
P.O. Box 64818,
Baltimore, MD 21264

To make a donation online, go to
and click on the Chile Relief Fund link.

Meanwhile, we'll keep posting updates on what's happening to help the victims of this devastating earthquake.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Progress....and 40,000 houses to go

“Un Techo para Chile” (UTPCH) has built around 1,400 emergency houses (mediaguas) in the most affected areas of Chile and so far it has enlisted 4,900 volunteers.

More remains to be done as UTPCH has set a goal to build 40,000 houses before this winter.

With that goal in mind, UTPCH has been building emergency housing in the most affected areas hit by the earthquake and the tsunami.  To date,

• 398 houses have been built in the Metropolitan Region of Conchali, Estacion Central, Lo Espejo, Buin, Curacavi and San Jose de Maipo and the regions of Peralillo, Placilla, Pichidegua, Santa Cruz, Pumanque, Yerbas Buenas, Marchihue, La Estrella, Nancagua, Pamilla, Lolo, Chepica and La Vega).  

• 636 houes have been built in Maule, in Boyenruca, Sagrada Familia, Villa Prat, San Rafael, Pelluhue, La Vega, Villa Alegre, San Clemente, Empedrado, Talca, Putu, Curepto, Lipimavida, Lloca, Rarin, Constitucion, Lloca, Chanco, Pelluhue, Vichuquen, and Licaten;

• and 339 houses have risen in Cobquecura, Coliumo, Yumbel, Curanilahue, Tucapel Bajo, Lebu, Mulchen, Coelemu, Concepcion, Isla Santa Maria, Mulchen and Penco.

"We can make a difference in the lives of these people."

Jaime Mosso, a young volunteer working in Boyeruca, says, “We have to think and reflect very deeply and take into our own hands the responsibility of this task. Even though everything seems so complicated and tough, we can make a difference in the lives of these affected people. That is why the construction of the emergency housing is an urgent priority. "
In the coming days, a new group of 100 volunteers from the Engineering Faculty of the Catolica Pontificia University are going to Pichidegua to build 20 houses.  Another 120 volunteers from the Commercial Engineering Faculty of the same University are going to Yerbas Buenas to build 20 more.    
At the same time the Scouts will be building 40 in Pencahue and 40 more will be built by 120 volunteers in San Clemente. 

Friday, April 9, 2010

A Call To Build a New World

I am sending you a story written by Cristobal Emilfork, SJ, about the services which were provided last week to the affected populations in Pelluhe and Caranpeour and a text written by Nicolas Oelckers, SJ, about the situation of immigrants after the quake and the services and assistance that the JSM is providing them. Both were posted earlier today.

Below, I have also added some information as regards our schools. We have yet to evaluate the damages and determine the costs to repair St. Ignatius Alonso Valle high school and Saint Ignatius high school in Concepción as well as the top floor of our education office. More study and assessments are still necessary before repairs begin.

Finally, I am sending you information about our two Infocap rooms where students are living as well as a note about the Ignatian Spirituality Center.

All of this is coinciding with the celebration of the bicentennial of Chile independence. This bicentennial should be a special occasion to recognize a call
“to build a new world with access to social well-being and justice, a new jubilee in which overcoming all divisions and where God restores his justice for everyone.” (CG 34, 3, 16).

Update on School Repairs
Ignatian Education Network:
The Saint Ignatius School in Calera
This is a rural school located in the Calera city. The families who are living in this area are poor farmers. This rural school, which has 350 students, was severely damaged, both classrooms and the roof.

The Saint Ignatius School in Valparaiso
This school, located in the city of Valparaiso, has 750 students. This school serves students who come from the poorest areas of the city. The structure of the school was also damaged.

The Jose Antonio Lecaros School
This school, located in western Santiago, has 520 students. It is serving low income students. Some parts of the school structure were damaged and the potable water system was broken.

The Saint Ignatius School in Concepcion

It is located right at the epicenter earthquake area in southern Santiago. This school has 1,400 students and is a subsidized private school. After a partial assessment it was decided that the elementary school area must be demolished. Furthermore, the school also lost a lot of educational materials. The homes of many families of the students as well as administrative staff were also destroyed or damaged.

The Santiago Institute

The building structure was not damaged. So classes resumed March 8. INFOCAP has 1,200 students, but some students are not attending their classes regularly because they do not want to leave their houses. Some lost their homes during the earthquake and we are helping them to get emergency housing.
During the earthquake many of our computers fell down off the storage racks and as a consequence, we lost them. This area of the building must be fixed up also.

The Biobio Institute
This area was severely affected by the earthquake and the tsunami and as a consequence many of our students (around 80%) lost their homes and possessions. We are visiting our students to assess the damage to their houses and lives and to see what kind of support they need.
INFOCAP could not start classes because of this difficult situation. However, we are planning to start classes April 15.

Ignatian Spirituality Center
The center house has been damaged in many areas. The roof and some walls were severely damaged and need to be repaired. Also the chapel needs to be fixed. According to the recommendations made by the construction company, we cannot use the building until it is completely repaired because we would be putting people’s lives and security at risk. We are seeking alternative creative ways to teach the courses and workshops we have already planned.

-- Eugenio Valenzuela SJ

Not All Who Suffer Are Chilean

The population affected by the earthquake is not only Chilean; there are also many foreign people who were affected. Many Peruvian families living in the capital of Chile have also been hurt by this tragedy. The houses they rented are now uninhabitable. They are living in camps located in plazas, parks, and some of them are even living in the streets.

These days we have worked so hard and learn so much more about our migrant brothers and sisters. Working in coordination with “Hogar de Cristo,” the Jesuit Migrant Service, or SJM, and other civil society organizations, we set a goal to find affordable houses for these migrant families. This commitment is a great challenge for us and we are not sure that we will be able to respond and meet effectively all migrant basic needs.

In the beginning we could not understand why they did not want to go to the shelters. “What is going on?” we asked ourselves. “What is happening with them? Why do they prefer to remain at the camp instead of going to the shelters which are providing temporary housing and supportive services to the affected population?” We realized that their decision was linked to their vulnerability in this country. They are living in a country that is not their own and often hostile.

For all these reasons, it is not enough to take them into the shelters. They are not homeless. They have been working hard and fighting to make their lives here.

They are struggling to keep their lives intact.
They have developed their own support networks; they have their friends and emotional support and do not want to lose them. How are they not going to want to protect that? Could it be that they think that in the shelters they are going to be put at risk and lose all these things and for that reason they prefer to be together in the streets?

The SJM wants to help and support our migrant brothers in a comprehensive way.
We want to put our whole minds, wills, and hearts to work with them, to be with them, to serve them, to defend them, to promote and to empower them. We want to respond to them efficiently serving and meeting their physical, emotional, social, and financial needs. It is very important for us to work in collaboration and coordination with other organizations such NGOs, municipalities and Consulates in order to find the best solutions which will give encouragement and peace to them and us.

-- Nicolas Oelckers SJ

One Endless Minute

Monday dawned clear on March 8th. It was 7:30 in the morning; the first rays of the sun started to illuminate that huge mass of blue dark water which would soon flood the wheat fields of the Maule coast. It was a quiet and calm sea.

Looking at the sea, who would have guessed that these now quiet waves were the same that two weeks ago had left destruction and death in cities such as Pelluhe, Curanipe and other small towns located in central southern Chile? We were 140 young volunteers eager and willing to work. “Un Techo para Chile” had organized the hands and hearts of these thousands of volunteers who were seeking ways to serve and relieve the suffering of the population affected by this tragedy.
The plan was very simple: to build 60 small houses (mediaguas) for the poorest peoples – some of who lost everything and others who lost everybody – who are still living in the emergency camps.

When our buses were close to the city of Pelluhue, we saw a shocking scene.
The fishing wharf area of the harbor (Mariscadero), a piece of land adjacent to the sea, was totally destroyed by the force of the waves. The towers of the stadium had collapsed and were on the ground like match sticks. We saw the path of a capricious sea which destroyed all signs of civilization in this area. However, 10 meters away from this area the trail of death left by the waves had not touched other houses.

It is so hard for me to write about this tragedy because I cannot find words to describe what happened here. There are no words to correctly describe the hell, desolation, distress, despair. It smelled rotten, as if dreams were cut from their roots, of so much suffering and affliction.

However, in the midst of so much destruction I could find hope; a hope that made me keep going and do not give up in spite of the misery and sadness surround me; a hope that edifies because it touches a vital breath which allows it to keep alive; this hope was in places that my naïve and grief-filled eyes could not see.
The hope and calm of Pancho and Cata - two children who lived with their grandparents and escaped from the tsunami when their grandparents forced them to run away leaving them behind. These two children reached the hill and survived but they will never see their grandparents again.

The hope of Rene, an artisan who lost his handicraft workshop, his instruments and tools, but he could not hold back his tears when the young volunteers and I gave him an 18-meter house which is going to protect him at least during this winter season.

The tireless spirit of children, men, and women who had no problem to work from 8 am until 1 am the next day, lunching in shifts in order to keep on working; young people who made the generous decision to spend the last weeks of their vacations working for all those anonymous and suffering Chileans.

A few weeks ago I was here in this city, participating in the Virgen de la Candelaria pilgrimage, walking along these streets which now are empty, kind of frozen in time. The house where I used to stay was totally destroyed and being turned into pieces of scrap wood.

I went to Chanco to visit Fr. Francisco, the pastor of this small town; this beautiful small town that usually has so many visitors during the Catholic celebration of the Virgen de la Candelaria. I found Fr. Francisco so quiet and catatonic looking at the place where the church used to be; there is nothing there, even the debris disappeared. It seemed to me that Fr. Francisco was living in an imaginary past refusing to see the cruel and hard reality before his eyes.

At the end of the week I admitted my powerlessness in the face of so much suffering.
It did not make sense. As a Jesuit — even more as a human being, my hands and my heart could not find ways which would help these affected people blot out magically all the suffering they lived. However, I could do something wiser that I learned from the novitiate mission in Tirua: Help people to feel their lives again, in other words, I decided to listen to and accompany them.

When we were at the Pelluhue square waiting for transportation to go back to Santiago, a lady near me sighed and said, “We are now by ourselves again.” Most of the volunteers were leaving the city. I glanced at her thinking this is not a short time commitment, this task is going to take months, even years.
I think we must not only build houses (mediaguas) or give them out food. We must listen to them.

-- Cristobal Emilfork, SJ

Friday, April 2, 2010

Next Steps in Rebuilding Chile

Fr. Eugenio Valenzuela, SJ, Chilean provincial, sends a report from Pablo Castro, SJ, the superior of the Jesuit Tirua Community. In this letter he writes some reflections and describes some ways of developing medium and long term apostolic works in the communities affected by this tragedy:

We are very grateful for all your generosity, support, and aid.    

We have not yet recovered from the violence that hit us from the earth and the sea. It was shocking.  When we went into town, the situation was distressful.  However, we hugged each other gratefully because we survived the catastrophe.
We began asking for help for those people whose houses were destroyed by the sea but who escaped with their lives from the tsunami.

In the beginning we prioritized and served people who lost everything. At that time we were isolated and without any kinds of services.  Only the radio was working.  We immediately organized a commission in order to respond to the emergency with humanitarian aid.  The earthquake did not damage the interior little towns too much, but the tsunami destroyed a large part of the small coastal towns here.  It destroyed all the supermarkets, for that reason, we had a food shortage.   Furthermore, houses, cars, trucks, some small restaurants and carpenter workshops were also washed away. In other words, the tsunami took part of the hearts of those people who worked and fought all their lives to have those possessions.  Most of the fishing boats were also destroyed.

A few days later the cities finally got aid. “Hogar de Cristo” sent us food and clothes by plane. “Un techo para Chile” and “Servicio Pais,” another aid organization, started to evaluate damages and developed an emergency plan which was implemented in coordination with the municipalities, community leaders, and neighborhoods. 
Working together we have also provided humanitarian aid to the very poor rural families who were living in fear and anxiety because this tragedy deeply affected their lives.  

Three days ago, life gradually began returning to normal.   For instance, the basic services are working now. Humanitarian aid is well organized and it is providing effective and efficient services. 

We think that it is time to begin the process of reconstructing the small towns here developing medium and long term reconstruction plans.  We believe that coordinating and working together with the different existing networks here will be a key element in this process.  The first step is to start a dialogue with the different organizations that are already working in this area in order to improve our diagnosis and make the best possible decisions.  At the same time it is important to develop a psychological support program for the affected people especially for those who continue to suffer from fear and anxiety. In this regard, psychologists are volunteering and working with these families and in the poorest rural areas,  some volunteer teachers are already working with children affected by this tragedy.
Below you will find the medium and long term initial reconstruction proposals which we are developing.  We hope and ask for your support and help.  We need your generous financial donation in order to develop and implement these programs. 
Housing:  The “Un techo para Chile” is building emergency housing. We are asking for donations such as wood, zinc roofing, and financial assistance. We want to cover the houses inside and out with a special material in order to make these houses more resistant to the coming winter time. Furthermore, we want to improve these houses adding a small 9’x9’ room which will be used as a kitchen.   The biggest room will be used as bedroom.  We also want to build a shed that could be used to house tools and other kinds of materials.  In this way we want to support the small businessmen who lost everything because of the tsunami.  Finally, this proposal also seeks to provide jobs for the poor, better their incomes and the quality of their lives.
Goods and services.  We have already started to support those families who lost their possessions or whose houses were flooded but are habitable.   We are providing them with mattresses, ovens, small tables, etc.  However, we know that it is going to take more time in order to provide everything that they need. We have almost nothing of kitchen utensils such as pots, pans, etc.  Yesterday, a mother was able to pick up her three little children and go back to her home because she received kitchen utensils and was able to cook for them.
Grassroots organizations. We are working with the members of these organizations seeking the best ways to strengthen their committees and organizations.  We strongly believe that we have to dialogue with them and take into consideration the grassroots organizations leadership opinions and experience before we make any decision or send or distribute any kinds of donations in these places. 
Spiritual and emotional support.  The affected population is very distressed and frightened.  We have been to get back to work on our regular ministries and apostolic works and this Holy Week will be an special time of reflection for all of us. It is also very important that school teachers have professional support in order to develop some skills which will allow them to help and support students.
Micro Enterprise.  There are many things that have to be done.  The temptation to respond to just immediate needs is great but longer term projects are more important.  Tirua had been a subsidized community before this tragedy. It would be a big mistake to increase these subsidies.   In this regard there are some things that can be done almost immediately   1.- Replace the working tools lost when the carpenters of the town lost their workshops.  In this way they will immediately start making furniture which we will buy and distribute to the affected population.  2. Grant loans to people who lost their small businesses such as: supermarkets, restaurants, and small retail outlets in order to help them to restart and provide these services soon.   3.) Strengthening the trade network of the Relmu Witral weavers whose sails will be affected by this tragedy.            
Fishermen and Forestry.  The major sources of employment in this city that have been damaged by the tsunami and the earthquake we linked to the fishing and forestry industries.   We and our partners are seeking ways to allow these two small industries to continue to function.

After the tsunami hit Tirua, someone posted a video surveying the damage. You can see it on You Tube:

The Day When the Earth Shook

Chilean provincial Fr. Eugenio Valenzuela, SJ, has sent two new reports. Below you will find reflections written by Fr. Eduardo Alonso, SJ, written just as the earthquake ended and the realization of what had happened sank in.

A second report about plans for the future will be posted in another blog today.

Finally, Fr. Valenzuela sends his own thanks for the support he and his country have already seen. He says,

"With this opportunity, we also want to thank our friends, provinces, and lay people from many countries for their solidarity, letters, and prayers. Once again thank you for your support, concern, and humanitarian aid that we have received from you in these difficult times where a lot of people are suffering in Chile; all of this solidarity expressed in different ways is a sign of grace and hope for us."

We remain with you in our prayers and our support on this Good Friday.

From Fr. Alonso:
I need to write something in order to exorcise this distress and sense of angst that I have felt since February 27th, 2010 at 3.30 in the morning.
It is connected to the day that the earth shook.  That day I was in a room at the Loyola Retreat House that is located in the Padre Hurtado community and one hour away from Santiago. I was totally involved in the Spiritual Exercises process beginning the contemplation the passion of  Jesus Christ. 

I went to my bed thinking and preparing myself (as St. Ignatius advised) about the next day´s topic:  “Tomorrow early in the morning I will pray with the Gethsemane passage,” I said to myself  before I closed my eyes and put my life in God’s hands.
Suddenly, just like a tremendous and furious storm I was woken up by the thunderous and noisy sound made by the crunching glass of the windows in my room.  My bed was shaking and the furniture was wobbling.  I got up as soon as could. I put on my pants and sandals while the walls and floor were swaying.

I opened the door and saw another fellow who was under the door frame of his room; we went out together. The power was out.  The long dark hallway was a zigzagging tunnel and two floors above were shaking like jelly.  Everything turned fragile and seemed illogical and unreal.  

“It is not a nightmare," I said to myself. “This is happening right now.”

Once in the park – where most of the Jesuit brothers happened to be – I looked up towards the sky while everything was shaking around me with a relentless scream coming from the depths of the earth. I looked up towards the sky and I saw the bright moon and something like stars. The universe seemed to have been indifferent and aloof from what was happening to us. I stayed there along my brothers waiting for it all to stop, waiting for the stillness to return hoping that God remembered us. 

A train near the house blew its horn. Some birds cut through the sky. The trees were still dancing and the ground seemed like the sea.
We continued to wait, looking at each other and observing the world which suddenly became mad, expecting the unexpected during those two minutes that seemed endless.
After the earthquake we have had more than 140 aftershocks and the earth is still groaning.

In Conception, Talcahuano, Maule the situation is bleak. The tsunami waves rolled more than one kilometer into the inner city and they destroyed everything on the way.
Last night I watched many children crying in front of the TV cameras looking for their missing parents.  I also saw a desperate grandfather who had nothing to eat or to give to his grandchildren. He was trying to justify why he stole some bottles of milk from the supermarket.  
I saw a grateful mother with her daughter in her arms, she and her little daughter survived the tragedy.  I also saw a young man who lost his wife and son in the tsunami looking at great piles of debris.   
I saw a fishing boat which was carried by the sea into the main street of a small city. I also saw the remains of a circus devoured by the sea water and its artists explaining how they saw the sea take it all away with a devastating noise.
I saw broken bridges, highways and collapsed building that looked like pieces of papers; I saw the face of a policeman in tears because he could not save the life of a little boy.
I saw so much suffering, so much grief, so much need, so much disaster and I could not hold back my tears. People are hurting and it deeply hurts me and causes me grief and I would like to be there with them.  Maybe I can help them to rebuild their lives and houses, I do not know….. In a couple days I will know where I am going to go in order to support and work with this suffering population.

I still think about the garden of Gethsemane passage where in the middle of the silent and stillness of the night Jesus Christ prayed.
His words are cutting through the dense darkness of these hours.

Sometimes we plan so many things, work so hard to achieve other things; we are overwhelmed with many projects and new challenges. But all such daily worries vanish when you go through a dramatic moment like this.     

The absolute limit of the earth moving beneath  your feet, the power of contingency, the fragility of life,  all these things make us think and reflect deeply about the meaning of our lives, the meaning of our existence.

The day when the earth shook.  That day I was in a room in the Loyola Retreat House, in the Padre Hurtado Community, I was one hour away from Santiago and something like a distant, fictitious and indifferent moon let out its pale light on the world.
-- Eduardo Alonso, SJ

Spreading The Word About Chile

Our colleague in the Missouri Province received copies of the photos of sent by the Jesuits in Chile and was moved to create a slide show. Fr. Tom Rochford, SJ, relates how a community transforms from a place of destruction to a place of new hope. It's beautiful — both the transformation and Fr. Tom's slide show.