The night of January 27, 2019, is one that Fray Gabriel Avila Luna will not easily forget; for there were times when he thought it might have been his last. Winds of over 300 km an hour tore through parts of the Cuban capital, Havana. For around 16 minutes, the friars living in the parish of Jesús del Monte hovered between life and death, it seemed. The hurricane tore through a swathe of territory some 20 km long and half a kilometer wide, and took with it the lives of four people that night.
Even for the people of Havana, who are accustomed to the threat of hurricanes, that night was a traumatic one, given the suddenness of its arrival and its sheer violence, worse than anything seen before in the 500 years the city has just recently celebrated. “At present, we are five brothers, but at the time there were just three of us, since the others had not yet arrived in the mission. That night it was just me and Brother Rodolfo, since the other friar was not at home. I think it was providential that he wasn’t there, in fact, since his room was the most extensively damaged”, explains Brother Gabriel. “It sounded like a military bombardment, there were sounds like gunshots going off and we really thought we were going to die”, recalls Brother Rodolfo Rojas, as he shows some of the destruction to visiting representatives from the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation ACN International.
“There are still bits of roof tile from the neighboring houses, embedded in the walls of our church and monastery. The fear that something like this might happen again is now something that has entered the very bones of many of our neighbors.” And indeed the friars themselves, who have been living on the heights of Jesús del Monte since 2014, continue to fear the danger, especially now that the new hurricane season is beginning again in the Caribbean.