Print Edition: March 8, 2015
Sign-up for our E-letter!
To: (Multiple email addresses may be specified by separating them with a comma)
After hurricane, Catholics responded early, stayed long
BY CARLOS BRICEÑO Register Correspondent
NEW ORLEANS — Several
days after Hurricane Katrina, James Kelly went from the Superdome to Louis Armstrong
Airport. In a dimly lit
waiting area by one of the airport gates, the executive director of Catholic
Charities in the Archdiocese of New Orleans came across a doctor and a nurse
who were tending to 30 frail senior citizens on stretchers, all covered in
blankets up to their necks. Most of them were close to death. He began to pray
over each person. He remembers telling a woman whose name tag identified her as
“Edna” that she was going to be okay, that she had a beautiful smile and that
he loved her.
“And I told her that God loved her
and that he loved her infinitely more than I did,” he recalled. “I told her
that he would come and would hold her hand and that he would take her home. And
I said to Edna, ‘If you don’t mind, I’m going to bless you.’ And I reached up
and made the Sign of the Cross on her forehead.”
And then, as Kelly got up to pray
over the next senior, Edna, whom he thought was comatose, tried to touch him
with her hands. He pushed her hands down so she could save her energy, and then
she pushed away the blanket and reached up with her hand and moved her fingers
across his forehead in an effort to bless him in return. But she did not have
enough energy, he said, so all she ended up doing was hitting his forehead with
her fingers three times.
“That was a grace-filled moment,”
Kelly said. “And obviously in Edna’s face was the face of God. But it was also
God telling me that I will bless you, and I will bless New
Orleans throughout this crisis, that I will give you the grace that
you need, and I will give New Orleans
the grace that it needs to be able to rise again.
“Look, we in our faith know that
there are no resurrections without Good Fridays. That there are no Easters
without the cross,” he said. “Our faith calls us to believe in a loving and
merciful God who will never ever abandon us.”
The story of the Gulf Coast
region since the Category 3 storm made landfall Aug. 29, 2005, is the story of
grace and faith in action, of Good Friday followed by Easter. The hurricane may
have caused major flooding, about $81 billion worth of damage and more than
2,000 deaths. But it also left behind a Catholic Church that Kelly described
this way: “The Church has been pruned and there’s new life sprouting on the
branches, and it pops up in different parts, but the branches are stronger. But
it’s only beginning to grow again. It’s only beginning to show new life and new
color and that new vibrancy,” he said.
The statistics bear out the kind
of destruction the Gulf
Coast region has endured.
Church officials supplied the following numbers:
— In greater New Orleans, about 200,000 homes were
destroyed, with 18,000 businesses closed or damaged, while 113 of 136 parishes
have reopened. Twenty-three parishes are temporarily closed. Eighty-three of
107 schools have reopened to educate approximately 40,000 students.
— More than 5,000 volunteers from
across the country have helped out in the New
— About 500,000 people have received
some type of service or care from Catholic Charities; during a normal year,
that number is usually around 125,000.
— In the Diocese of Biloxi, 428 of
433 Church-owned structures were destroyed or severely damaged, with more than
$70 million in damages sustained, while the Archdiocese of New Orleans is
dealing with $120 million in uninsured property loss.
‘A Renewed Church’
Several Church officials pointed
out that although the damage, stress, death and loss of property have been great, grace is paving the way for new opportunities.
Archbishop Alfred Hughes of New Orleans admitted that
God’s ways are mysterious, but that people need to cooperate with his grace. He
cited one example: his priests, most of whom have “found a new appreciation of
the significance of their priestly ministry.”
And he cited the help his
archdiocese has gotten from his brother bishops and from generous people who
have donated or volunteered. In fact, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
approved another national hurricane collection campaign Aug. 26-27 to help New Orleans and the
Diocese of Biloxi. A previous collection raised $130 million.
“I think we have an opportunity to
be a renewed Church and a new New Orleans,” he said. “We need to
address in our culture what is noble and good and decide to let go of the
dimensions of our culture that are degrading of the human person or violent
toward human life. I see the voice of the Church calling attention to that.”
He cited as an example the
Vietnamese community as a sign of what can happen when the Church works
together. He said the Vietnamese people, most of whom
arrived after the fall of Saigon in 1975, are not part of the political
structure in New Orleans,
so their needs were being ignored, even though most of them live in a part of
town that was totally flooded.
So they organized, he said. They
set up an evacuation shelter in Baton
Rouge. They put together teams of parishioners who
went from home to home to clean, gut and restore each other’s residences. They
brought in architects to help them develop a plan for reconstruction of their
community to have it centered on their church, Mary Queen of Vietnam. They
want to construct facilities for their elderly to have access to independent
living, assisted living and nursing homes. They want to set up facilities for
their young people to keep them connected to the Church and to their
traditions. And they have banded together to put political pressure on the city
to have more of a voice in local matters.
“My hat is off to that kind of
example of what it means to be Church, what it means to be a community of faith
and what it means to be a community together,” said Archbishop Hughes.
Father William Maestri,
superintendent of schools for the archdiocese, said that the archdiocese has
learned that being proactive and results-oriented has replaced old ways of
thinking. He gave the example of Archbishop
Rummel High School, normally an all-boys’
school, which opened in October. To accommodate public and private school
children whose schools were not re-opened, Church officials divided the day
into two parts: 1,100 youths who would have gone to Rummel
went to school from 6:50 a.m. until 12:30 p.m., and then more than 2,000
students from another 14 other schools went to the transitional school from 1
to 6 p.m.
“The transitional school was
co-ed,” he said. “That means the school had to change bathroom facilities. We
never had one single incident. Not one fight. Not one
[instance of] sexually inappropriate language and conduct. No parent, no
student complained from being moved from the morning to the afternoon.”
No one was turned away on account
of not being able to pay tuition, he added.
“I think that the clear evidence
in New Orleans
is that Catholic schools have been a remarkable story of action, inclusion and
success for the common good,” he said.
Many officials cited the impact of
the volunteers who have streamed in to help people in the Gulf Coast
region. One volunteer, Paul Clark, a 19-year-old student from Benedictine College
in Atchison, Kan.,
has visited New Orleans
three times since December. During his last visit, in June, he slept on a
sleeping bag with a group of other volunteers for several weeks on the floor of
a convent, which had been damaged from flooding.
“It still feels like a ghost
town,” he said.
What impressed him the most during
his visits to help out was the faith of the people.
“They haven’t had their faith shaken,” he said. “They have more of a faith.”
But even when you have faith,
times are still difficult. The sense of loss is acute.
“I think the people of New Orleans are like
walking dead people trying to figure out which direction we’re going,” said
Connie Andry, director of homeless services for
Catholic Charities for the archdiocese.
Andry has become homeless herself since
the hurricane hit. She has lived at seven locations — including a one-bedroom
apartment with nine other people — and now she, her husband and their dog live
in a Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer parked on her brother’s
property in Central City.
“A trailer isn’t so bad after you
live with so many people, you know,” she said. “We thank God for the trailer.”
Carlos Briceño is based in
Copyright © 2015 EWTN News, Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction of material from this website without written permission is strictly prohibited.
Accessed from 126.96.36.199