July 21, 2006


Nearly a year later, Gulf Coast still needs our support, prayers

It’s been nearly a year since Hurricane Katrina and all its fury came ashore and leveled a sizable portion of the Gulf Coast. A few weeks later, Hurricane Rita followed a similar path and brought more chaos to millions.

The storms’ devastation left more than 1,800 dead and hundreds of thousands homeless. Communities that took the brunt of the storms were left in shambles as survivors scrambled to save property, personal belongings and, most importantly, each other. Damage estimates across the area surpassed billons of dollars, and Hurricane Katrina itself was labeled the worst natural disaster in U.S. history.

Eleven months after Katrina and Rita, two things are crystal-clear as people continue to pick up the pieces: The scars from the storms remain with millions, and residents who have found the fortitude and courage to trudge back to what they once called their communities continue to need our assistance.

Outreach to the relief effort has been unprecedented. While many have given out of their pockets—American Catholics have donated more than $130 million to a national collection for victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita—others have taken it upon themselves to travel to the affected region to offer a helping hand.

Here in Indiana, parishes have adopted sister parishes in the impacted Gulf Coast region and assisted them financially and through mission trips down South, where volunteers have shed lots of sweat and tears.

Youth groups, including one led by Father Jonathan Meyer, archdiocesan director of youth and young adult ministry, have also jumped at the chance to join in this labor of love. The priest led a spring break trip to Pascagoula and Biloxi, Miss., and Father Meyer and another group of young people will head to Mississippi next week to continue their mission work.

While the ministry efforts from parishes and people far and wide is commendable, the overriding message of the outreach is something our Church and faith is all about: building community. Or in this case, helping rebuild community. The hurricane relief efforts again demonstrate how we as Catholics take that Gospel message to heart.

The needs of our brothers and sisters, particularly in the Archdiocese of New Orleans and Diocese of Biloxi, Miss., continue to be as great now as they were immediately after the storms, and won’t go away anytime soon.

All but five of the 433 Church-owned structures in the Diocese of Biloxi, Miss., were destroyed or severely damaged. In New Orleans, Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes estimated $52 million in uninsured flood damage to buildings that the archdiocese is trying to reopen now. Buildings whose reopenings have been delayed sustained another $70 million in uninsured flood damage, he said.

With that in mind, the U.S. Confer-ence of Catholic Bishops has approved a special national collection on the weekend of Aug. 26-27 for those two dioceses. Sixty percent of the funds will go to the Archdiocese of New Orleans, and 40 percent will be given to the Diocese of Biloxi.

The burden that has been placed on the millions who call those areas home is overwhelming, noted Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., who also serves as president of the U.S. Confer-ence of Catholic Bishops. Add the fact that most residents are dealing with some form of grief, dislocation and discouragement, and you get a better sense of the daily challenges they continue to face.

While the donations of time, talent and treasure are appreciated, don’t forget the power of prayer.

In a memo to his fellow bishops about the special collection, Bishop Skylstad closed with this message from an unnamed bishop in the hurricane-affected region: “Critical to the ongoing recovery is to keep the journey of the struggling people of this great region before the minds and hearts of the Catholic faithful. Their homes, their industry and their hearts are broken.”

— Mike Krokos


Local site Links: