GUEST VIEWPOINT | Despite Maria’s devastation, Puerto Ricans celebrate God’s gifts

Have you ever given thought to how you would build a community from scratch? What would you build? How would you design it? What would be the important parts of this community? Would there be things in your life that you wouldn't incorporate into the new community? Think about your responses.

Now, think about Puerto Rico, which was devastated by Hurricane Maria just a couple months ago. In those two months, the people of Puerto Rico have learned to live a life devoid of many forms of technology and the comforts of life that they knew before Maria. Now, they live a new normal. So much of the island territory lives day-in and day-out without power, clean drinking water and air conditioning, and with intermittent cell signals and constant trips to the gas station for fuel for generators to power some modern conveniences in their homes.

When I first saw images of Puerto Rico on the news and on social media after the hurricane, I had no words to describe the devastation. Now that I have traveled there and driven around the island, I still have no words to describe it.

San Juan remains a city with little power, a majority of street signals out, businesses and schools closed, power lines down and debris scattered along the side of the road. Then, in the countryside are the remnants of mudslides, downed trees, downed power lines, homes that haven't been touched, debris and continued devastation

It's just amazing and beyond words when looking at it all and trying to take it in. How would I react if this happened to St. Louis and suddenly everything that I knew as normal was gone? It would be devastating.

But in taking a closer look around, I see the beauty that I remember of Puerto Rico. The beautiful ocean, the trees, mountains and the countryside, it's all a beautiful gift from God. Even through the devastation of the hurricane, God reminds us of the beauty of the trees that were destroyed and stripped by the hurricane, suddenly, in full bloom again. It's a reminder that even in the most difficult times, God is present with us and loves us.

And in the communities I visited with students from De Smet Jesuit High School, we've seen people who were laughing, having fun, spending time with loved ones and helping each other. There's no bitterness or anger, just people giving of themselves for others in their communities. The students, teachers and parents of Colegio San Ignacio have given of their time outside of school to help people. School families give up every weekend to go into the mountains and help others who still have leaking roofs from the hurricane and haven't received tarps to cover them. Or maybe, they do something simple, such as gathering in the afternoon to listen to music, laugh and just celebrate life.

The people of Puerto Rico are a strong and resilient group who responded to this devastation with the most important gift God gave us, the gift of love. As this community is rebuilt, they have a chance to build up the island territory into something even more beautiful than it was before.

Hawkey is a theology teacher at De Smet Jesuit High School. He returned Dec. 2 from a week-long service trip with students and faculty to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Colegio San Ignacio, a Jesuit school much like De Smet. 

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