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Hope in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma

Cuban Partners Network holds annual meeting in Chicago

by Valdir França | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Flooding caused by Hurricane Irma in Havana, Cuba. (Photo by Yasser Exposito/ACT Alliance)

CHICAGO – After changing its annual meeting location from Houston to Chicago due to the devastation of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, members of the Cuba Partners Network found themselves listening to reports from their Cuban friends recounting Hurricane Irma’s slow, spinning assault on their beloved Cuba on Sept. 8.

The first category 5 hurricane to make landfall in Cuba since 1924 – and one of the most powerful ever recorded in the Atlantic – Hurricane Irma left significant damage and widespread flooding across central and northern Cuba before turning north toward Florida and other U.S. southeastern states.

The Rev. Marielys Cabrera of the Central Presbytery in Cuba described collapsed roofs and broken doors on church buildings, manses and the homes of church members and neighbors. She spoke of extensive damage to water tanks, windows and community kitchens.

At CANIP, a 35-acre national camp and conference center for the Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Cuba (IPRC), damage was seen on the roofs of the cabins, the auditorium, dining hall and warehouse. There was also damage to the walls of the camp’s kitchen and to the administrator’s house, some destruction to the pool and the chapel, and several toppled trees. The camp provides fellowship, spiritual growth and leadership development for hundreds of children, youth and adults every year.

Hurricane Irma uprooted many trees, including the beloved laurel tree that has been part of the campus of the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Matanzas from its beginning in 1946. (Photo by Francisco Marrero)

The Rev. Liudimila Hernandez Retureta experienced Hurricane Irma on the U.S. side while visiting congregations in the Central Florida Presbytery. She shared her feelings before and after Irma.

“There are no words, images or gestures to describe these past few days,” she said. “There are only feelings of frustration, sadness, loneliness, loss, hurricane … solidarity, family, trust, patience … and, above all, faith, prayer and commitment in light of this tragedy.”

“As our sisters and brothers face so many losses, many of us get paralyzed,” Hernandez Retureta said, “I don’t want to stay in this place of grief and sorrow. I hear the voice of God, and I am strengthened to continue to move forward – on Jesus’ path – wherever I am and wherever I go.”

Presbyterian World Mission is awaiting a post-hurricane update from the presbyteries of La Habana and Matanzas. In conversations with the Rev. Izett Samá, moderator of the La Habana Presbytery, and the Rev. Ary Fernandez, moderator of the IPRC, damages appear to be very similar to the Central Presbytery, including the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Matanzas. The Rev. Dr. Carlos Emilio Ham-Stanard, rector of the seminary, told PC(USA) mission co-worker David Cortes-Fuentes he estimates 80 percent of the trees and plants have been destroyed on the seminary’s campus. This includes the vegetable garden that provides produce for hospitals and part of the city’s population.

Hurricane Irma’s aftermath will continue to affect the lives of many people in Cuba and the capacity of the church to continue to serve in a country already struggling economically, in part due to the ongoing trade embargo imposed by the U.S. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has a general humanitarian license and is willing and able to assist in Cuba.

In the spirit of a community in mutual mission, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) affirms its call to deepen the bonds of unity, faith, and common witness between the Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Cuba and the PC(USA), especially in difficult circumstances such as this.


We appreciate your continued prayers for our Cuban friends, sisters and brothers and your contributions for disaster relief assistance due to the hurricane in the Caribbean, or for the Cuban Church or Evangelical Theological Seminary of Matanzas for their diaconal ministries, including repairs and reconstruction of their facilities.

You may also mail your donation. Please make your check payable to Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and send it to P.O. Box 643700, Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700. Be sure to include the DR or E number (see below) you wish your donation to support in the memo line of your check.

For hurricane relief in Cuba (DR000194) – presbyterianmission.org/GIVE-Irma
For the Cuban Church (E867501) – pcusa.org/donate/E867501
For the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Matanzas (E862510) – pcusa.org/donate/E862510

Valdir França is Presbyterian World Mission area coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

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