As you probably know, in early September the Bahamas were hit by a devastating Category 5 hurricane. More than 50 people were killed while thousands more lost their homes in the hurricane. While the storm primarily affected two of the more than 700 islands that make up the Bahamas, the impact in these areas was severe as those islands have the second largest concentration of people in the nation.
Recently, I reached out to Archbishop Patrick Pinder of the Archdiocese of Nassau. He and I studied together in seminary, and he detailed to me some of what he described as “the worst disaster in the history of our little nation.” In his words, “Thousands are homeless. The death toll rises each day and we are advised that the total fatalities will be staggering. I lost a school, a church and a rectory. One of our church buildings is now a shelter for the homeless.”
Needless to say, the recovery will take a long time. Years, according to Archbishop Pinder. I would ask that each of you remember the people of the Bahamas in your prayers. Beyond that, I am asking the parishes of our diocese to collect donations for the recovery effort. Parishes are being asked to hold a second collection to benefit the Archdiocese of Nassau in the next few weeks. People can also donate directly to this effort by going to catholicfoundationgb.org/give. I have informed Archbishop Pinder of our efforts and he is very grateful.
As I have reflected on this disaster, I couldn’t help but think of all the people who have been impacted. So many have lost their homes and will be forced to relocate to other places either temporarily or permanently. When I put myself in their shoes, it is hard to imagine what it would be like to wake up one morning, realizing I have lost everything and now I have no choice but to leave my home. My heart breaks for these people.
This Sunday, the church celebrates World Day of Migrants and Refugees. This celebration, which has been commemorated in the Catholic Church since 1914, is an opportunity to pray for our brothers and sisters who are on the move due to war, political and social instability, economic challenges, and environmental crises.
The theme that Pope Francis set for this year’s celebration is, “It is not just about migrants.” As he wrote in his message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees, “In a word, it is not only the cause of migrants that is at stake; it is not just about them, but about all of us, and about the present and future of the human family.”
Pope Francis is reminding us of the Catholic principle of solidarity, the belief that we are one human family, with more in common than what divides us. He is challenging us to recognize that when one member of our family is hurting, we are all affected by it, and we all have a responsibility to help in whatever way we can.
The recent hurricane in the Bahamas should serve as a reminder to us all how easily our lives can be turned upside down. While thankfully we don’t have to worry about hurricanes here, we never know what circumstances might one day force us from our homes. If we were forced to migrate, how would we want people in other places to receive us?
So, I would encourage you to take some time this weekend to pray for all migrants, especially those who have been forced from their homes by the recent hurricane. Ask God what you might be able to do to help the people of the Bahamas. And ask God to give us all the grace and courage to welcome others the way we would want to be welcomed if we were in their situation. May each of us see migrants not as strangers, but as our brothers and sisters in Christ!
Follow Bishop Ricken on Twitter at @Bp DavidRicken.