Dominican Sisters in La Palma, Canary Islands, and the Eruption of a Volcano

By: Sr. Inmaculada Becerra, Dominican Missionary Sister of the Holy Family, from La Palma (Canary Islands, Spain)

If two years ago we had been told that the way of life would change so fast, that we would have to adapt to new norms and that these norms would affect the whole planet, we would have thought it was fiction; from a movie script. We spent a year adapting to the rules of the COVID’19 pandemic and when it seemed that we had everything under control on our island of La Palma, the moment arrived, the volcano exploded, and nature showed us again its most beautiful and its harshest face at the same time.

We live on volcanic islands, so we know that this can happen. Just 50 years ago the Teneguía volcano exploded on the island, and it became an attraction for “the palmeros” and outsiders. but this was a volcano near the sea, in a sparsely populated area. It was something spectacular and beautiful, it did not cause much damage. Those who still remembered the San Juan volcano in 1949, knew that its force was uncontrollable. But with Teneguia there were no houses carried away and it was very close to the coast.

On September 19, the alarm had already been raised. The volcano was ready to make its appearance, though it was not clear where, or exactly when. But that Sunday, as people were walking around looking for the moment when it would appear, they felt the explosion and then an inexplicable silence.

It is now two months since the eruption; a day that remains in the memory of all of us who live on the island. It was exciting to live through this experience and at the same time terrifying to discover that the place where the mouth of the volcano came out was in a very populated area, far from the sea and with a slope that would cause the lava to devastate thousands of houses, banana plantations and other crops. People had to run away, taking only what they were able to prepare. Some were able to return to pick up furniture, belongings, and other things; others were left with only the clothes on their backs. As of now, more than 1,000 hectares of land have been covered by lava, more than 2,000 buildings have been destroyed, more than 7,000 people have been displaced from their homes.

Now we are left to deal with the magnitude of the earthquakes; the gas emissions from the different mouths of the volcano; the advance of the lava and the destruction, as well as the deafening noise and the ash that covers everything. Unlike the beauty of snow in winter, the ash does not melt and if there is no one to remove it, it becomes as destructive as the lava. But as great as the destructive magnitude of the volcano, or perhaps even greater, is the solidarity expressed by people in so many parts of the world with the island and the people of La Palma. The response was immediate. Messages, phone calls, mail, everyone asked how they could help, resources arrived immediately.

Our Dominican Family contacted us immediately to find a way to be at the side of those who needed help. This presence has not disappeared but continues to look for ways to continue practicing the compassion of St. Dominic. Through the different congregations of Sisters, the Friars, the Educational Foundation of St. Dominic, the Lay Communities, help is arriving so that it can be distributed, through Caritas, to those who need it.

La Palma is a very small island, and it is easy to meet people, who have suffered the consequences of the volcano; to learn of their suffering at this time, but also of their strength and their willingness to reach out to others who have been affected. We have felt the warmth of the solidarity of the people who have responded in these most difficult moments without thinking about who they are helping, giving themselves completely to make the harshness of the volcano more bearable. We cannot extinguish the volcano, but we can make sure that its destruction does not cause so much damage. It will be difficult to overcome the devastation of the volcano, but nothing is impossible for God. Believing this helps to maintain hope, to strengthen fraternity and solidarity, and to seek together the way out of this situation.

Thank you for making us feel the warmth of the Family, for discovering that a place as small as this one can make hearts so big in so many places in the world and that we do not lose hope that “a better world is possible”.

Solidarity campaign of the Dominican Schools in Spain
Our school in La Palma before and after being covered by the black blanket of volcanic ash.

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