Published September 8, 2005
Human beings can only look at so much violence without eventually experiencing personal trauma and shock. For that reason parents rightfully ought to be concerned and outraged when their children are exposed to gratuitous violence in the media and entertainment industry. Even the strongest individuals among us occasionally become casualties to the stress of excessive violence, as evidenced by the numbers of military personnel who suffer from post-combat fatigue and distress. We have all been pushed to the limit, if not beyond, of our capacity to witness carnage with the images of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina during the past week.
The pictures have been appalling of people fleeing their homes, taking shelter in inadequate public facilities, and desperately looking for their loved ones. As a nation, we have been traumatized by such sights. Many people already question the motives behind what they consider the excessive exposition of such images. Yet without these images, our hearts might never have been spurred into the needed response. Without seeing our own people and our own nation suffering the same fate that we often have come to believe happens only in faraway places, we might not have rallied to the point where we are all now profoundly concerned about our neighbors, our brothers and sisters.
I am so deeply grateful to our people of the Archdiocese of Atlanta for your extraordinary actions and requests to assist those in need. Catholic Charities, parishes throughout the Archdiocese, our schools, our Catholic hospitals and medical services, St. Vincent de Paul, and above all the countless numbers of individuals who have begun to offer assistance to those who have relocated here in North Georgia as well as providing assistance to those who are now living in many other places throughout our nation have been nothing less than excellent. What we have all seen and heard has prompted us to respond with a level of care that might not have been engendered without seeing the images that have so touched the hearts of people everywhere.
Still there are other images that also must inspire us, and one of these was on the front page of the Atlanta Journal Constitution last Thursday. It shows an African-American toddler asleep in the arms of a college age white man. She sleeps utterly at peace in his embrace. His face is that of the very image of tenderness. I don’t know the child’s name or that of the young man, but together they show us an image of trust, serenity, calm and love. This picture is a modern day manifestation of the prophecy that Isaiah (65:17-25) described as he envisioned the coming age of the Messiah. It is an icon of the type of care and love that we must have for one another—under all circumstances. Across race, gender and age, the picture helps all of us to see how God wants us to live in union and in peace with each other. The photographer, W.A. Bridges Jr., gave us a blessed example of the other types of images that this tragic moment has also provided—those of compassion and heroism. If the many depictions of the disaster that has touched the lives of so many people inspired us to generosity and love, may similar pictures serve to inspire us to hope and to have faith in God’s design for all His children.