When you’ve just started a new job the last thing you need is to find yourself at the centre of a disaster where many people are turning to you for help
This is what happened to Father Saúl de Jesús Solís Vera last year just a few months after he’d started working at Caritas in Tabasco, the Mexican state where one million people were affected by massive floods.
“The floods were an enormous surprise that we weren’t prepared for. Many people immediately went to the Church for support,” says Father Saúl.
In some cases literally. As numerous people were suddenly made homeless they ended up sleeping among the pews of Villahermosa Cathedral until other shelter could be found.
“We weren’t prepared. There were just three people working part-time in Caritas Tabasco,” says Father Saúl.
The challenges presented by such a big emergency to the local Caritas were massive. But as with many other emergencies, the solidarity of the Caritas network – a global confederation of 162 Catholic organisations across the world – was almost immediate.
Father Saúl explains that Caritas Mexicana helped organise communications in Tabasco. Catholic Relief Services, a Caritas member in the USA, along with Caritas Germany and Caritas Internationalis helped Caritas Tabasco assess needs and make proposals about how to organise the disaster response.
Financial donations were also offered by other Caritas members to help buy relief items such as hygiene kits and blankets within Mexico.
But what really amazed Father Saúl was the huge surge of solidarity both locally and from people all over Mexico.
Caritas Internationalis helped coordinate initiatives from churches in other states that wanted to help. The fact that people pulled together and so much help came from within Mexico meant that people had to rely less on help from abroad.
“There was a big chain of solidarity,” says Father Saúl. “We felt the presence of God in many ways in the solidarity of the people who opened up their houses and shared their food and clothes.”