Guatemala – Fr Castagna, SDB: "We ask the Lord to give us a hand"

11 November 2020

(ANS - San Pedro Carchá) - On 1 November, when Hurricane Etaps path, then downgraded to a tropical storm, was reported for the first time among the countries of Central America, the Salesians present in the Alta Verapaz Department, Guatemala, could not have imagined the extent of the damage this phenomenon would cause. Even now, "we have no idea of ​​the exact number of communities affected," says Fr Vittorio Castagna, a Salesian missionary stationed in San Pedro Carchá, Alta Verapaz.

The Salesian mission serves about 350 villages, of which about 40 have been directly affected. The rains, strong winds, and landslides have damaged the houses and some were completely destroyed, as they were totally submerged.

"It hasn't rained for three days, yet the water continues to rise and people are unable to go out," explains Fr Castagna.

Many roads have been lost and there are communities that are no longer reachable; the houses in the various communities are extremely precarious and many have lost truly everything. Added to this is psychological trauma. "I saw some of them with deep sadness feeling alone, insecure ... The displaced people are now crowded into a very small place, it is a very uncomfortable environment, this is indeed a trial for them."

The people who managed to escape from the villages are now in shelters, while the rescue helicopters are still looking for ways to get people to safety.

Villages close to the flooded ones have opened their schools and churches to welcome the displaced. "We are happy that, although there was no direct indication, the people of the villages have organized themselves to help the surrounding communities. They offer them three meals and a dry place. I was happy to see this spontaneity of the Church which is becoming a sister, close to the people," the missionary underlined.

It is currently not possible to calculate the number of shelters as every possible option has been used to accommodate people: the shelters are in houses, chapels, schools.

The Salesians are receiving help from Guatemala City and other Central American countries, and are delivering them to shelters with great difficulty as the telephone service has been interrupted and the needs are being discovered as they reach the locations.

This is a high-risk situation, not only because of the rains, but also because of the pandemic. Many people in shelters without the necessary protection could increase the spread of Covid-19. "We ask the Lord to give us a hand in order to help the many people who need us," concludes Fr Castagna.

The Salesian missionary parish of Carchá has eight priests who visit a territory of 1,000 square kilometers with about 350 villages; it has educational facilities in several places with around 5,000 indigenous students. The Salesian missionary presence has been rooted in the territory for 80 years.

Zaida Navarrete



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