.- The response from Catholic dioceses, communities and organizations to the devastation left behind by Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast has been immediate and far-reaching.
Catholic Church facilities nationwide, and especially in Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and East Texas, have kicked into high gear and are responding to emergency and long-term needs by providing shelters, food, medicine and schooling for storm refugees.
Dioceses nationwide have planned parish collections for the first weekends of September. However, dioceses immediately surrounding the disaster zone have been actively helping the people in this desperate situation for days.
Help has come through diocesan organizations, Catholic Charities agencies, St. Vincent DePaul Societies, Catholic schools, Catholic hospitals, parishes, retreat centers and Catholic families. As well, individual parishioners have personally stepped up to the plate and opened their homes to storm refugees and provided room and board.
In many dioceses, churches and retreat centers have been opened as shelters and Catholic schools have offered to educate displaced students at no cost. This is the case in the Diocese of Shreveport, Louisiana, where a number of refugees have been resettled. The schools said they would keep a transcript of grades to send back to the schools in southern Louisiana when they reopen.
Some dioceses are assisting very large numbers of storm refugees. About 30,000 arrived in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Texas. There, the local Catholic hospital, Christus St. Joseph, mobilized its mobile health unit to assist at shelters.
Thousands of refugees were evacuated to the Diocese of Beaumont, Texas, where parishes are preparing meals, collecting gift cards to Wall-mart, and hosting people. A diocesan retreat center has been housing 35 people since before the hurricane hit. The Hospitality Center, a diocesan soup kitchen, has been preparing to provide meals for people as their money runs out.
The Diocese of St. Petersburg, Florida, was accepting patients into its Catholic hospital system and Catholic Charities was working to provide temporary housing. The diocese also plans to send a team of people to the ravaged area to assess what kind of physical, as well as financial, assistance it can provide.
In addition to gathering non-perishables and helping to settle storm refugees, staff at Catholic Charities in Orlando has been helping families locate missing relatives.
Dioceses as far away as the Diocese of Albany, New York, were prepared to send volunteers to assist in the Gulf Coast; it would also help in relocating people if necessary.