NEW YORK – Archbishop Roberto González Nieves of San Juan, Puerto Rico, has received an award for his leadership in guiding Puerto Rico through rebuilding efforts after the nation was decimated by Hurricane Maria in 2017, and a series of earthquakes in the years since.

Catholic Extension, an organization that since 1905 has worked to support the Church in some of the poorest regions of the country, awarded González its “Spirit of Francis Award” at a Nov. 28 ceremony in New York City. The annual award recognizes an individual or group who has made a significant impact on the mission of the Church through service or philanthropy.

Father Jack Wall, president of Catholic Extension, described González as someone “who possesses a passionate heart, that beats with a pastor’s love for his people, for the people’s growth and well-being, and for the future of the people of God in Puerto Rico.”

“Archbishop Roberto is truly a good shepherd leading, nurturing, strengthening, and giving his very life every day so that God’s people in Puerto Rico may continue to build up vibrant and transformative Catholic faith communities, especially among the poorest of the poor on the island,” Wall said.

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, the chancellor of Catholic Extension, said González “is steeped in the tradition of St. Francis.”

“He’s one who has wanted to serve the poor, to preach the gospel in a way that allowed the faith of others to be nourished, and his genuine love of people,” Cupich said. “He really cares about human beings so that they flourish in every way possible. Archbishop Roberto is a great human being.”

In addition to González and Cupich, other prelates present at the ceremony were Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington, Cardinal Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, and Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston. Bishop Luis Miranda Rivera of Fajardo-Humacao, Puerto Rico, and Bishop Angel Luis Rios Matos of Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, were also in attendance.

Receiving the award, González said he accepts it “as a call and a grace to renew my vowed service to the Lord, his people and his Church.”

“Thank you, Catholic Extension, for financially and spiritually supporting the Church in Puerto Rico since 1905 to the present time,” González said. “Extension has helped repair and rebuild damaged church structures, and helped us secure necessary funding, which we otherwise would not have been able to secure. This is an extraordinary expression of ecclesial and missionary solidarity and love.”

Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017, killing thousands, and severely damaging the island’s infrastructure. Combined with a series of earthquakes and Hurricane Fiona last year, more than 600 facilities, which include Catholic churches, chapels, schools and missions.

Many of the churches and schools are located in San Juan, the nation’s capital. González said that it’s important to rebuild these places because Catholics need places to come together and worship.

“When a place is destroyed, we must rebuild and begin again,” González said.

Catholic Extension, working with González, have organized and led a disaster recovery program for Puerto Rico’s five dioceses who all seek to rebuild facilities. In a news release, Catholic Extension said it is optimistic that the goal of rebuilding the island is within reach.

According to the organization, $332.2 million of the estimated $400 million in damages have been obligated by FEMA to the Puerto Rican dioceses, and construction projects are underway. Currently, 15 projects, consisting of 58 facilities, are in process with architectural contracts being signed.

Speaking on the award, Dolan highlighted the connection between the United States and Puerto Rico.

“Tonight, as we celebrate the life and ministry of Archbishop González and Catholic Extension Society’s work of rebuilding the Church in Puerto Rico, we are reminded of the deep-rooted connections that bind us together as one human family and as a people of faith,” Dolan said.

“We gather in this spirit of friendship, reaffirming our commitment to stand in solidarity with one another, even as we care for the poor, the downtrodden, and the vulnerable of our society,” he said.

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