Rays of Lights Amid Flooded Houston’s Gloom
Amidst the devastation, the whole city has turned to prayer, despite the obstacles preventing celebration of Mass at many churches.
HOUSTON — The sun will make an appearance in Houston later this week, according to weather forecasts, but the city’s residents first must contend with more rain and survive as best they can.
In the midst of so much tragedy, it seems the whole city has turned to prayer, even as Masses have been canceled and many pastors are discovering that their churches — reachable only by boat — are under water.
Already Sunday, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston canceled all services at the cathedral and advised everyone to “heed the warnings of the civil authorities to shelter in place.”
Mass wasn’t even an option for a priest in a kayak, but that didn’t keep Father David Bergeron from ministering to stranded flood victims.
The priest of the Companions of the Cross was interviewed by local TV newscasters Sunday morning and quickly became a star on social media, as he explained that he was using his kayak to try to get back home to bring provisions to his fellow priests.
His hopes to celebrate Sunday Mass with those stranded along the way were dashed because he was unable to purchase wine, seeing as how it was before noon on a Sunday morning.
He joked that he’s not usually out trying to buy alcohol so early in the morning … a quip that reminded one mom who knows Father Bergeron personally of his great sense of humor.
“He’s a very smiley, very happy person,” Lily Indalecio said. “[He’s] outgoing and loves to do outdoor sports, hence his kayak.”
Indalecio said Father Bergeron’s effort to be with God’s suffering people reflects his day-to-day ministry as a priest at the Catholic Charismatic Center, where he works with the Hispanic community and “loves what he does.”
“He has a great and huge heart [shown by] him talking about God and Jesus being alive on live TV,” Indalecio said. “He mentioned how his ancestors — he’s French Canadian — came to evangelize the Americas in canoes; now he will evangelize in a kayak. … I just loved how much his love of Christ and sense of humor came through in that brief interview.”
Kimberly Phalen, who lives in the southwestern suburb of Sugar Land, said that as her home and surrounding streets were dry, they made an initial attempt to attend Sunday Mass, uncertain if the roads of the neighborhood would be impassable. They quickly found out they were: “We attempted church, but turned around, only getting five minutes down the road. There was too much flooding on feeders.”
A day later, despite having bags packed for her own four daughters as the creek behind their house rose, the Phalens found themselves still dry enough to welcome another family with five children from a neighboring subdivision.
Live Streaming Prayers
Since so many subdivisions and parishes are entirely cut off, some pastors have taken advantage of live streaming to accompany their communities in prayer.
St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in The Woodlands, just north of Houston, live streamed the 11am Sunday Mass for parishioners and others of the region who couldn’t get out. Still, there was no homily, so as to keep the service short and allow the faithful to get back home quickly.
On Monday, various churches, including the Cathedral of Our Lady of Walsingham, see of the Anglican ordinariate, invited the faithful to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet and Rosary at 3pm simply by following along with local Catholic radio.
Other pastors live streamed the chaplet, such as Fathers Khoi Le and Norbert Maduzia from St. Ignatius of Loyola parish in northwest Houston.
Churches that were able, such as Sts. Simon and Jude in The Woodlands, opened their doors to shelter evacuees, with parishioners using Facebook to explain what supplies are needed and calling on volunteers with high trucks to be able to get through the soggy streets and bring help and supplies.
For some parishes, though, sheltering evacuees isn’t an option. After the live stream of the chaplet, Father Maduzia of St. Ignatius had a parishioner take him by boat to survey the situation of the parish buildings that serve the 4,000 families of the parish. In heartbreaking videos posted on Facebook, the priest waded through the flooded church, surveying the ruined organ and grand piano, the water-logged chapel where the Blessed Sacrament is kept, soaked vestments in the sacristy, and other damaged areas. He commented that all the buildings, including the brand-new parish building, are under water.
“Everything is lost. … Everything is under water, and I mean everything. … I’m speechless. I don’t know what to say,” he said, as he waded through several feet of water. “Friends, right now we don’t have a building. We are the Church.”
Register correspondent Kathleen Naab writes from Houston.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Catholic Charities USA Harvey relief fund
Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston Harvey relief fund
Knights of Columbus diaster relief fund
The U.S. bishops are organizing a national collection to aid the flood victims at upcoming Sunday Masses.