SANTIAGO, Chile — The 8.8-magnitude earthquake that rattled central and southern Chile early Feb. 27 has taken a significant toll on Church infrastructure, according to Bishop Fernando Chomalí.
Speaking to the Register, Bishop Chomalí, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Santiago, the capital, said the Church “is committed to helping those most in need, especially the ones who have lost everything.”
The bishop remarked, however, that the Church will also need assistance in rebuilding significant structures damaged by the quake.
The area most affected by the earthquake is the south-central part of the South American country, the region that includes Santiago, Talca, Concepción, Talcahuano and Constitución. The temblor killed more than 700 people. A relief effort has been undertaken by the Church in conjunction with Caritas Chile, Fides news agency reported.
In Santiago, at least 70% of the churches and Catholic cemeteries were damaged, some beyond repair.
The chapel of the Monastery of the Visitation, a 200-year-old convent in Santiago, was so severely impacted that the superior of the congregation announced it will have to be permanently closed.
Other severely damaged buildings include the historic monastery chapel of the contemplative Congregation of the Perpetual Adoration, the Basilica of El Salvador and the Basilica of National Thanksgiving, as well as the churches of San Isidro Labrador and Divine Providence, all located in downtown Santiago.
In the Diocese of San Bernardo, located south of Santiago, Bishop Juan Ignacio González reported that “thanks be to God the Catholic hospital suffered no damage and is working at full capacity.”
Nevertheless, at least seven parish churches were severely affected, “some of which will not be able to reopen and may have to be torn down.”
The apostolic nuncio in Chile, Archbishop Giuseppe Pinto, praised the Chilean bishops for “their speed and effectiveness” in responding to the needs of those impacted by the quake, which so far has left nearly 1 million homeless, mostly in the southern regions of Concepción, Temuco and Curicó.
Archbishop Pinto also confirmed that the Church will need support in rebuilding many of the churches, as it begins to assess the damage.
“The information is still very sketchy because full communication has not been re-established.” However, he noted, what he has been able to see in Santiago is “heartbreaking.”
“Several significant churches, one or two centuries old, have been destroyed or seriously damaged.”
Finally, he applauded bishops, priests and religious for reaching out to people in need: “Chileans are a very devout people, especially those in the countryside. The presence of the Church brings them a great deal of hope in the midst of their suffering.”
Alejandro Bermúdez is editor in chief of ACI Prensa in Lima, Peru, and Catholic News Agency in Denver.