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Dominica’s rebirth

Candles are raised in thanksgiving.

By Simone Delochan,

In the latter half of September 2017, social media and news were inundated with images of the abject destruction Hurricane Maria had wrought.In Dominica and other islands homes were lost, people went missing, systems crashed, and the world galvanised to send assistance as quickly as possible.

We saw Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit come to tears, days after the island was hit, in an interview with Garfield Burford, Director News, Sports and Current Affairs, ABS TV Antigua. “The country was devastated….Every village in Dominica, every street, every cranny, every person in Dominica was impacted by the hurricane,” he said. “We have no running water, no electricity. It will take us a very long time to get back to a good state.”

Jump forward to just over a year later, and Vicar for Communications Fr Robert Christo receives an invitation to minister to the Dominica Catholic community through the intervention of Catholic Charismatic Renewal leader Martin Anthony. In an interview at the office of CAMSEL (Catholic Media Services Limited), Fr Christo describes his experience.

He expected to see an island still ravaged; his first view from the plane though was the vivid green of mountains reborn. “The first glimpses were heaven because I never thought that this lush nature’s isle would rebound in one year. Everything came back…the whole of creation has been reborn…they could just look at the mountains and shout ‘Halleleuia!’ and know God is present. Everything that collapsed became part of a new, creative work.”

He had gone along with Marceline Peters and Diane Wells for seven days and visited northeast and south Dominica in a series of workshops, a rally and ending with a Mass on the Feast of Christ the King at the Roseau cathedral.

The reception they received was overwhelming during the course of their ministry. The gratitude they felt to Trinidad and Tobago, he said, was immense.

Trinidad and Tobago were the first responders; the army had gone in and brought control to the island. Living Water Community was among the various organisations that sent aid, and particularly commended was that a group of doctors, who went to offer medical assistance.

As narrated to Fr Christo by Fr Charles Martin of the parish of Goodwill, Roseau, one week after the hurricane there was a knock on his door. He said they were doctors, and upon getting Fr Charles’ permission, they cleaned and set up beds in the parish hall without any fuss.

“It was salvific!” Fr Christo exclaimed. “I didn’t know we had that level of intervention…I don’t think Trinbagonians know the extent of the help we gave Dominica.”

The first-hand stories told to Fr Christo of the trauma experienced made him realise that seeing the photos could never capture adequately from what the Dominicans were recovering.

He spoke of Fr Charles’ seeing the roof of his church gone; of the debris that the river had brought down; of seeing people the morning after the hurricane, just walking. “He saw throes of people like in Lebanon, walking with their Georgie bundles going to the jetty just to escape. He could have seen the north of Dominica from where he was [Roseau, in the south] because the trees on the mountains were flattened.” An old couple spent the eight hours of the hurricane’s lingering in their freezer as the storm raged around their house.

In the communities the trio visited, they met hospitable, optimistic people intent on recovery. “The beauty is that people recovered because everyone put their hands into helping to recover houses and people who never had homes, got homes”, said Fr Christo. “It was a community effort: local and international.” All systems are back and their eco-tourism is flourishing once again: “There is a vibe of rebirth.”

Fr Christo comments that there are important lessons for us here in Trinidad and Tobago the most important of which is “be prepared”—spiritually and otherwise. “Everything can collapse. Sunset teaches us that; relationships teach us that. But the Lordship of Christ will never pass away. That’s what Advent celebrates and reminds us of.”

Of his own highly successful ministry in Dominica, he said a woman’s comment to him on the last day expressed succinctly the impact the small group had: “Father, I came to be filled but I am leaving pregnant!”