Published August 23, 2007
Each place that I have called home has had to contend with nature and the volatile physical forces that human beings simply cannot control or predict. In Chicago, there are the devastating tornadoes that can strike almost without warning. In fact, the path of destruction that a tornado can inflict on a region can catch people off guard, as bright sunny days can turn ominous almost instantaneously. Occasionally tornadoes can even strike at night when people are asleep with little chance of preparing themselves for the destruction that nature can inflict. Tornadoes can be selective, destroying one home while leaving a neighboring home untouched. Sections of northern Illinois around Chicago are referred to as tornado alley since so many of them develop each year.
When I arrived as the Bishop of Belleville in December 1993, the region had just endured the worst flooding in its history. The waters of the Mississippi, Ohio and Missouri Rivers, enriched by the winter melt-off, overflowed their banks and washed away farms, homes and the dreams of people who had never envisioned such a catastrophe.
In fact, during my first few days as the newly appointed Bishop of southern Illinois, I visited some of the towns and areas that had been hardest hit. The sights were incredible, and the only comparisons that I had ever seen were pictures of the cities and towns that had been bombed and destroyed during the Second World War. The floodwaters washed away precious topsoil and infrastructures and soaked bricks that would then freeze and swell and then crumble in the wintertime.
The entire town of Valmeyer, Ill., in the Diocese of Belleville was completely relocated and rebuilt, removing everything from the banks of the river to higher ground—all the homes, businesses and churches relocated to the bluffs high above the river that had overflowed its banks with such fury.
Here in Atlanta, we have witnessed the destruction and turmoil that hurricanes bring to this region of our land. Katrina and Rita still leave the residue of their destruction, and many people from the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama are still not able to return or have chosen not to return to their homes in those places.
We are already nervously watching the path of Dean and what other hurricanes might follow. We live with these dangers, always knowing that the forces of nature can overwhelm even the best strategy and secure preparations that we might provide. These disasters invite us to acknowledge God’s power and to place ourselves humbly under his providence and mercy.
We now are in the midst of hurricane season, and the daily news is filled with predictions of where the path of the hurricane might be, how forceful the impact of its winds, and what to do to prepare for its arrival.
One of the things that we can all do, in addition to taking the prudent precautions that are recommended, is to pray for seasonable weather, to pray for those who are in harm’s way, to pray for those who risk their lives helping others, to pray for the safety of those who are most vulnerable to these devastating events.
Like all of you, I have been watching the weather reports that sometimes grow frightening in their predictions. I invite all of you, both individually and as parish families, to pray for the safety and well-being of people who live with the power of nature—and from my experience in three different homes, that pretty much includes all of us.