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All humanity in eye of hurricane

They had so little to begin with. They were already the poor of poor Honduras and poor Nicaragua, of El Salvador and Guatemala, too -- they were the obvious ones to get hurt by the hurricane, floods and mudslides that wrought such devastation on our neighbors to the south.

These are countries whose stories we have published for many years. They are seldom glamorous, usually tales of woe about injustice and war. Especially Nicaragua and El Salvador, against which our government, a scant decade ago, did so much depredation, made them pawns in our political games.

Like every suffering, this disaster leaves us lost for words. No wonder we call it a mystery.

The universe is gigantic and nature is untamed and God isn’t talking. We see on television where, a few days earlier were whole villages and their inhabitants, now there is nothing but a great stretch of mud. We watch the bloated bodies of people so recently alive, so recently making plans, however humble, for their futures, their families, plans probably for anything and everything except early death -- we can’t help wanting answers.

Perhaps, ultimately, the only answer is mute acceptance of the will of God or the forces of nature or whatever world-view makes sense when otherwise there is no sense.

But in the real world we have to carry on. We know something has to be done for the long-term, something more than Band-Aid solutions. There is enough wealth and expertise and goodwill in the world to ensure that misery on this scale need not happen. There will be no utopia, at least not yet, but theoretically the poor countries can have the same chance to make it as the rich countries, and if that’s true in theory, it can also be true in practice.

We know this works at ground level. People are compassionate, generous. As a civilization we must surely be advanced enough to do this at a wider or institutional level. We know how. Optimists think this, therefore, will happen. Eventually. They hope.

Big ideas, these, and easy to put off until tomorrow.

But in the meantime, right now, there is great suffering and great need. It’s gratifying to see so many relief agencies move into action, and so many donating medicine, food and various services.

The best most of us can do right now is give money. It may be the best way on earth to use money. There are many worthy agencies; we mention three for readers’ convenience (be sure to mention hurricane relief or such):

  • Hurricane Relief, c/o Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, P.O. Box 302, Maryknoll NY 10545-0305
  • Catholic Relief Services, P.O. Box 17090, Baltimore MD 21203-7090 (1-800-235-2772)
  • Oxfam America, Central America Relief Fund, 26 West St., Boston MA 02111

National Catholic Reporter, November13, 1998