.- Amid commemorations and ceremonies surrounding the first anniversary of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in the American south, New Orleans Archbishop Alfred Hughes took a moment to reflect on the challenges and memories resulting from the storm and to discuss the good which can come from the tremendous suffering experienced by his people.
The 73 year-old archbishop wrote in a special issue of the “Clarion Herald” of the profound changes faced by the people of his archdiocese, including himself. “I never dreamed that God would be asking me at this time in my life to assume the responsibility of shepherding this good archdiocese in the face of such overwhelming destruction.”
In addition to facing the destruction of a category 5 hurricane, the city of New Orleans was also forced to deal with a break in the levees which separated the city from Lake Pontchartrain. The resulting water covered over 80 percent of the city. Katrina and the resulting flooding are estimated to be responsible for $81.2 billion in damages and took the lives of at least 1,836 people, making it the costliest and one of the deadliest natural disasters in U.S. history.
Forced to work from a command center in nearby Baton Rouge, Archbishop Hughes recalled the immediate support he received, which allowed him begin offering assistance to his flock within 48 hours of the storm.
“Communication was extremely difficult,” the archbishop recalled, “but we mounted a humanitarian and pastoral response that made it possible to assist rescue workers, provide food to the needy (almost 40 million pounds in the first four months) and pastoral care to the people in the shelters.”
“Catholic Charities mounted an extraordinary effort to provide survival assistance to those most in need (more than $6 million to date). Perhaps the most remarkable story was the restoration of schools so quickly to help stabilize family life and to provide education to children across racial and religious lines,” Hughes said.
Hughes said he thanks God for the many priests and staff members who worked as a team to provide the rapid response. He also made note of the service several priests offered during and after the catastrophe, tending to the injured and those in need at the Superdome, where thousands sought shelter; the airport, where a giant medical station was set up; and in surround cities, to which many refugees fled.
“A crisis like this makes it clear how important it is to have good people in place to respond quickly and effectively.”
“Many people have asked me why God could have allowed this to happen. Lord Jesus has revealed to us, God’s ways are far more mysterious than ours. God is a loving God who, even when he allows suffering, wants to draw greater good. St. Paul has promised us that for those who love God all things will turn unto good. I have experienced God’s grace. I have been strengthened by the extraordinary support of so many good people, both here in the archdiocese and in the country at large.”
“I believe God is calling us to a new New Orleans wherein people of every race, ethnic and economic background are welcome and live together in harmony,” the archbishop continued. “I believe that God is asking us to be a people of lively faith, earnest hope and self-sacrificial love.
Turning to the difficulties ahead, the archbishop mentioned a few areas of social concern. “As we continue to contribute to the rebuilding of our archdiocese and the metropolitan area in accordance with our own abilities, gifts and roles, I believe that God is already helping us to experiment with a new kind of public education that will be more effective for our children. I believe God is asking us to find a new way to offer health care to all, irrespective of income or social standing. I believe that God is inviting our public officials to be persons of integrity, lead with conviction and truly serve the common good.”
“This is a moment to remember in prayer those whom we have lost, to reclaim a vision for the future and both to pray and work for a renewal that will transform the Church and wider community,” Hughes concluded. “God grant us this grace.”