To Deliver Hope, Catholic World Mission Teams With Youth
SLIDELL, La. — Hurricane Katrina left behind a trail of destruction — and a trail of gratitude and spiritual lessons.
When the National Catholic Register teamed with Catholic World Mission to provide material and spiritual assistance to Hurricane Katrina survivors, thousands of readers responded.
Catholic World Mission has already begun rebuilding the families and the faith of hurricane survivors. Some examples occurred on a recent weekend in Slidell, a small town in Louisiana, about two hours away from Baton Rouge. Several weeks after the Category 4 storm battered the Gulf Coast, the town was still picking up the pieces, including St. Margaret Mary Church.
The hurricane had ripped away about 40% of the parish school's roof. It peeled away the metal roof of the church, exposing the tar paper underneath and causing some moisture damage inside.
The school, though, was the main concern. Classrooms, books, computers and supplies suffered damage, said Father Lanaux Rareshide, pastor. Though the teachers, principal and other members of the parish were helping to move what was salvageable and set up makeshift classrooms, Father Rareshide said more help was needed.
And that help did arrive.
Catholic World Mission pledged money to Youth for the Third Millennium to help in Katrina's aftermath. When Tony MacDonnell, the national missions coordinator for Youth for the Third Millennium, heard from a priest friend that the area in and around Slidell had been hit hard, he organized a group of 21 members from Louisiana State University and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette to come down on a recent Saturday to help clear debris.
Youth for the Third Millennium was founded by the Legionaries of Christ in 1994 as a way to provide opportunities for youths and young adults to share their faith with others. In different missions he has led for for the organization, MacDonnell has done door-to-door evangelization and led Bible camps. But this project was different, he said.
“It's much more a physical type of evangelization by your personal witness of being there and helping the others because it's a common cause you're involved with,” MacDonnell said.
He said he recalled something Pope John Paul II said — “Man finds himself in the sincere gift of self” — that he thought was applicable in the type of help the members were offering.
“I wasn't going there to help people because there is humanitarian aid that needs to be taken care of,” MacDonnell said. “I was going there because it was an opportunity to share myself with others. And, primarily, because I organize missions, to get other young people to have that opportunity. Because what I've seen over the years, when they have this opportunity to give of themselves, that's where they become closer to Christ.”
As a senior at Louisiana State, Brandon Charpentier saw the results of the devastation in the shell-shocked faces of the evacuees who arrived on campus, often by helicopter. His school shut down, as many students helped where they could until the more experienced disaster responders arrived, he said.
He added that as a member of Youth for the Third Millennium, he felt called to help the evacuees on campus and to make the two-hour drive from his school to Slidell since they were all his neighbors.
He said he prayed diligently as the hurricane was hitting land, but after it left, he got so busy helping out on campus, with little sleep, that his prayer life “disintegrated.”
“There was so much external activity that my interior eye, so to speak, was blinded,” said Charpentier, 23, a psychology major. “If we don't maintain that prayer life, or that interior focus on the cross, we will break down.”
Another of the volunteers who came to assist St. Margaret Mary Church was the Vicari family, from Folsom, about 30 miles away. Their home was not damaged, though they were without electricity for about two weeks. Their church in Covington was not damaged, either. The worst their area suffered was tree devastation.
“We had thousands and thousands and thousands of trees completely uprooted and demolished,” said Kelly Vicari, 40, who was helping out at St. Margaret Mary during the hot, sunny day with her husband and four children, who range in age from 18 months to 12 years old. “It's devastating what a tree looks like nowadays in our area.”
She said she and her family decided to drive to the church, which they had never heard of before, to help out because “of the gift of being fortunate.”
Though many trees had been uprooted on her property, none had damaged her home.
“We felt really truly blessed, and we felt because God spared our home he expected from us and expected us to help others since we didn't need the catastrophic help that these people need,” she said.
Center of the Storm
She said the hurricane has brought them closer together — with prayer being the “center” of their day.
“It truly got us through it,” she said.
They had been helping others in their town with the recovery effort, but felt called to help elsewhere, something she said they will be doing in other towns in the weeks ahead.
She said the storm has been a blessing in many ways for her family.
“Being here, together, united in Christ,” she said. “Some people thought we should leave our children with someone. But we wanted them to share in this devastation. This is life. This is what we have been given in this area of the world. We have, spiritually, grown tremendously in the community aspect, too. It's so easy for people to say, ‘God just saved us. Praise God.’ Every day, you don't get people talking like that in the grocery store. His name is heard so much more now. That is truly inspiring.”
Carlos Briceño is based in Seminole, Florida.
Lost in the Storm, They Found Solace in God
Tell me about your experience evacuating New Orleans.
When you live in New Orleans, hurricanes come along a lot. My husband, who has always lived in our house, would never leave. He was born and raised in this house. On the Friday before, we saw the news and saw that New Orleans was projected to be hit. For the last two storms, I was the one family member responsible for a 99-year-old aunt. She lived by herself in an apartment complex nearby. So this time, I made plans to go to Birmingham with my aunt, my sister, her husband and his 93-year-old mother. My husband stayed behind.
We lodged near EWTN and went to Mass every day. It was a great spiritual experience — even though I was worried about my husband. It helps to be close to Christ in the Eucharist.
Where you able to communicate with your husband?
Yes. We had communication on and off. All my kids were trying to call him and convince him to leave, but he wouldn't. We were able to talk to him through Tuesday night [after Katrina hit]. On Tuesday night, he said that there was water in the basement, and he was going to bring our Oriental rug upstairs. By 11 p.m., the lines were out. On Wednesday, we couldn't talk to him at all.
What were you doing in the meantime?
Well, my brother-in-law's mother had to go to the hospital, and then my aunt had to go to the emergency room. We also tried to find them permanent homes in the area.
Were you able to contact all your family members?
The Holy Spirit was very good to us — because all of us were in contact, though not 100% of the time.
What happened to your husband?
By Friday, I got a call from a neighbor, who also had her husband in the city. He was the director of a nursing home. He asked his wife to call me and let me know he would do everything possible, even use force, to get my husband out. I also have a nephew who is a New Orleans police officer. He stayed behind to defend the city against looting and violence. I kept leaving messages for him to get my husband.
When did they reach your husband?
On Saturday, my neighbor went by canoe to our house. By this time, my husband began to think it was time to go.
The generator had run out of gas, there was little food and water, and the natural gas had been turned off. He also saw a rat on the front porch. Then one of our two cats attacked him as he tried to get them in their cages.
Around the same time, my nephew arrived. He had secured a friend with a Hummer near by. He brought my husband by boat to the car, and someone was waiting to drive him to Baton Rouge.
How were you reunited?
My husband got to Baton Rouge with the two cats. He soon realized he needed to find a home for these cats — so by chance he walked across the street and knocked on a neighbor's door to ask if they would take them in. When the door opened, it happened to be a man who used to be our next door neighbor for years down in New Orleans.
His name was David Hill, now a doctor. He gave my husband antibiotics and his wife found a home for our cats. Then they used the internet to find my hotel in Birmingham. They called me and we formulated a plan to meet in Jackson, Miss. We reunited at the Ramada Hotel, off of Exit 52.
How did this experience affect your faith and that of your husband's?
This was a cause for his deeper conversion. When he was in the house alone he spent a lot of time looking at a picture of our three daughters and a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Now, he has been praying the Rosary with me every night — something he never did before. As for me, this has also deepened my faith. Father Angelus [Shaughnessy of EWTN] would say during Mass to praise God in all things because this is his will. It is difficult to think of all the things I have lost — but it forces you to have deeper trust.
What are your plans now?
We are staying in a house on the border of Tennessee and Georgia. It's a friend's house. We are enjoying being together. We can't go back to New Orleans, so we may go visit our daughters up North. We think we still have jobs. My husband was a chemist in a part of the city which wasn't flooded, and I worked with my brother-in-law selling remodeled kitchens.
We don't know where we will live. And my husband can't get in touch with anyone from work.
The Register checked back with Madeline and Jean Torre Sept. 22. They discussed their plans to return to New Orleans.
What have you been doing since meeting up with your husband in Jackson?
We drove up to Virginia to visit our daughter Adele, and from there we went to visit the rest of our daughters. We flew up to Boston and stayed with our married daughter in Newburyport, Mass. From there we drove to Wakefield, R.I., where we have a consecrated daughter. She works at Immaculate Conception Academy — a boarding school for high school girls who are open to vocations. We were well hosted there. The girls had a campaign going on: They were praying and sacrificing very hard for all the hurricane's victims. They entertained us with a choir. We just flew back to Arlington, Va., where we will stay a few nights. Then we will slowly drive back down to New Orleans.
What material possessions do you have right now?
All we are sure about is the clothes on our backs and our car. Our other two cars are under water and we don't really know what happened to our house.
How does all this uncertainty make you feel?
I can't pinpoint it. We have to accept God's will. I might cry a lot if we discover that we've lost everything. But we have lots of options. People have offered us so much already. One girl in Arlington is in Iraq — she offered us her condo. In Newburyport, another person offered us an apartment for free for two months. On Lookout Mountain, Ga., we have a place to stay indefinitely. My sister, who lived on the outskirts of New Orleans, has offered us to stay in the guest area of her house. I'm not concerned about the immediate future. What we don't know about is the long term.
Mr. Torre, how has this experience affected you?
Well, we had flood and home insurance. The storm was not as bad as it seemed. The morning after, there was not too much damage. All was well until Tuesday, when the levees broke. That was the only frightening thing for me — to see water coming down the street. It was like watching a science-fiction movie. A close friend of mine lost his house and other properties. Another friend also lost his house. We just had flooding in the basement, so we are on “Easy Street” compared to others.
And how has this affected your faith?
It has strengthened it. I started saying the Rosary again. When I was alone in the house, there was no electricity, no air conditioning. By 7:30 at night, it would get very dark. I would say the Rosary to calm me down. It will take a long time for New Orleans to get back on her feet — bring people back, get them jobs and stabilize the economy. It will be a different kind of Christmas this year. All we can do is pray. Hurricane season will be over on Nov. 1 — which is appropriate enough — because it's All Saints’ Day.
Mrs. Torre, what happened with your 99-year-old aunt?
My aunt passed away on Sept. 12. I was not there because I was traveling. But my sister, brother-in-law and niece were with her. They prayed all night by her bedside. While we were still in Birmingham, she had the presence of mind to ask for a priest. She had the anointing of the sick, confession and Communion. We then moved her to a nursing home in Mobile. From there her health worsened. She went to the emergency room with pneumonia on a Sunday, and passed away the next morning. She was a very holy woman. She had specific ideas about her funeral — she wanted to have the Mass in her own parish and be buried in our family plot. Both are under water right now. We had Masses in Mobile, Boston and New Hampshire. Her body is in a mortuary. We'll wait until the water goes down, and one day, carry out her requests. We know she's praying for us right now, talking to Jesus, and we need her.
Sabrina Arena Ferrisi writes from Jersey City, New Jersey.
The National Catholic Register is teaming with Catholic World Mission to bring help and hope to hurricane victims. Thanks to the thousands who responded to the Register's request for help. Hurricane Rita ensures that your help is still needed.
Register Reader Response
Catholic World Mission
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- October 2-8, 2005