Hurricane Katrina victims need more.
The outpouring of generosity following nature's deadly assault on the Gulf Coast was an important antidote to the many recriminations and accusations in the aftermath of the tragedy.
But hurricane victims also have an urgent need, above all, for hope. Catholics should insist that the aid they send to victims includes a spiritual element.
The tragic reports of the events following Hurricane Katrina were difficult to watch. The stories this time were about destruction and despair: We heard of people who lost everything, tales of survivors dying while waiting for rescuers, a New Orleans policeman committing suicide, of looters running amok.
But there was something far more important in the story of Katrina.
Early predictions of as many as 10,000 dead in New Orleans were unfounded. Reports of sexual assaults and dead babies in the Superdome shelter were untrue, say police. Predictions that New Orleans’ levees were difficult or impossible to rebuild were disproven within days.
There was a force at work in the Gulf Coast whose power was much greater than the destruction of the hurricane: hope.
CNN brought us a microcosm of the larger story of the hurricane when the network reported on one family's three-day ordeal in New Orleans.
A grandmother, mother and two daughters fled to the attic when their house began flooding. As days passed with no rescue coming, the grandmother died in the heat of the small windowless room. The mother, delirious with the heat and dehydration, urged her teenage daughters to take enough pain killers to put themselves out of their misery.
Now, says the mother, she owes her life to one teenage daughter who “screamed for hours” about the future: experiences she wanted to have, career paths she wanted to try, her future children.
By forcing her to see beyond the present moment, the girl was able to provide hope when all seemed lost.
For the victims of Hurricane Katrina, hope is the most precious commodity. Aid is pouring in, but people have lost their loved ones, their jobs and their property. What they need now is someone who is willing to tell them tirelessly that they have great things to look forward to.
In other words, they need Catholics who are willing to evangelize.
But Catholics in the West too often hesitate to share their faith. Even our own aid organizations often limit themselves to material aid and skip evangelization. We've bought the idea that sharing the faith is an arrogant imposition on others.
But families don't just need food, shelter and temporary comfort. They need to be told the truth about what has happened to their loved ones. They need to know they can pray and offer sacrifices for the souls of the dead. They need to know that their suffering isn't absurd.
The Catholic faith uniquely understands the place of suffering in the human experience — and in the divine experience. We know that when God asks us to suffer he's not asking us to do something he isn't willing to do himself.
Our Church began with the crucifixion of its founder, grew during a time of persecution in which its most prominent members were martyred, and now requires that each church feature a crucifix in its center and Stations of the Cross along its walls.
This central truth of our faith transforms tragedies into hopeful occasions, all by itself, because it has the power to transform sudden death into eternal life — and assures us that all of our suffering leads to resurrection, not defeat.
That's why the Register is partnering with Catholic World Mission to try to send aid to Hurricane Katrina victims. Catholic World Mission is able to do what the Red Cross and other aid organizations can't or won't do: deliver faith along with aid.
The material need is great, and must be met. But the spiritual need is greater, and can't be ignored.
We know that our readers may have given money to hurricane-relief efforts already, but we urge readers to donate money to our “soul aid” effort as well.
Register Reader Response
Catholic World Mission
Hamden, CT 06514