By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published September 15, 2005
While Catholics around the archdiocese continue to make fervent and prayerful donations to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory has been asked to take an official role in the recovery of the Gulf Coast region by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Spokane Bishop William S. Skylstad, president of the USCCB, has asked Archbishop Gregory and Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of Houston to serve as liaisons to the archbishops and bishops of the dioceses damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
Bishop Skylstad has asked both archbishops to keep him aware of the ways in which the USCCB can best serve the needs of the hurricane-ravaged dioceses long term.
“We bishops must not forget the importance of supporting our brother bishops and letting them know that we are with them as they face the daunting task ahead of serving their people in such great need,” said Bishop Skylstad.
Archbishop Gregory and Archbishop Fiorenza have been asked to provide direct, personal and individual support to the bishops of the region as they care for the needs of their people and rebuild diocesan ministries.
“This fraternal outreach is primarily an attempt to make sure that these local churches know of the support and concern of their brother bishops,” Archbishop Gregory said.
He will work primarily with Archbishop Oscar H. Lipscomb of the Diocese of Mobile, Ala., and the bishops of Mississippi and Alabama, while Archbishop Fiorenza will be the liaison to Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes of New Orleans and the bishops of Louisiana.
Archbishop Gregory has already contacted Bishop Thomas Rodi of Biloxi, Miss., who told him that the “faith of the people there was strong and resilient.” The damage assessment is a long way from completed, Bishop Rodi said.
Archbishop Gregory said he plans to stay in contact with his brother bishops primarily by phone since “travel to many of these places is still not possible, and these dioceses need to spend all of their time and resources attending to the pastoral needs of the people there.”
“These local churches need to know that we stand with them in faith and hope,” he said.
Focusing on that hope and on healing, members of the Atlanta Archdiocese gathered Sept. 7 at the Cathedral of Christ the King for a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Gregory for those affected by Hurricane Katrina.
Though many of the hundreds who gathered had not been affected personally by the hurricane, their hearts had been touched by the devastation, destruction and loss of life at the hands of nature in the Gulf Coast region.
Father Mark Raphael, whose New Orleans parish was devastated in the hurricane, was among the more than 10 priests who joined Archbishop Gregory in concelebrating the Mass.
“I’d like to welcome the many members of this local church and above all our brothers and sisters from the Gulf Coast,” Archbishop Gregory said as Mass began. “Welcome from the heart to this community, this family of faith. You are very welcomed. To Father Mark Raphael, who is joining us from New Orleans, you make us better by praying with us.”
Songs that invoked God’s mercy and healing, including “There Is a Balm in Gilead,” punctuated the Mass, and in his homily Archbishop Gregory spoke of the power of the Beatitudes, which was the theme of the Gospel.
“St. Luke’s Beatitudes make it clear that God has a definite preferential love for the poor. St. Luke’s Beatitudes are spoken to those who are poor, hungry, weeping and neglected—today, who among us could fail to see the comfort those words are intended to offer to the victims of Hurricane Katrina,” the archbishop said. “Today’s Gospel must have a special poignancy for the hundreds of thousands of people who have lost so much in the past 10 days.”
Though the devastation has been overwhelming, Archbishop Gregory said, it is now time to become Christ to those most in need.
“We have all been distressed and saddened at the pictures of devastation that Katrina has inflicted upon the people of the Gulf Coast,” he said. “So many lives lost and disrupted that it defies human imagination and most of our personal experiences. Yet many of the very ones that Christ considered blest in Luke’s Gospel are now our neighbors and friends who have come to our region and to many other places throughout the United States hoping to find the compassion and solace to which Christ Himself refers. If they are to find it, we must be the ones who extend the hands of Christ in offering it to them.”
The archbishop told local Catholics he is proud of the response they have made to those affected by the hurricane.
“We are a generous and loving people, and this moment has been one more occasion when that goodness has been given flesh,” he said. “Thank you for your overwhelming, big-hearted response in the face of this moment of human need.”
Many of those who came to the Mass felt that prayer was the most important thing they could do for the victims of the hurricane.
Beverly Newcomer, a parishioner at St. Andrew Church in Roswell, said it was important for her to pray during this difficult time.
“I wanted to come here to give my devotion to God and to bless all the victims,” she said.
A flight attendant, Newcomer said she has several friends in the Gulf Coast region that she has been unable to contact.
“Many of our flight attendant buddies have been affected by this,” she said. “Coming to Mass serves as a grounding for me. As a flight attendant you see so much more than just the city where you live. When I come to church to pray, it helps to lift my spirits.”
Lucille Hodges is a native of Alexandria, La., and both of her parents are from New Orleans.
“I’m just drained,” she said. “I’m sad because my beautiful city has been destroyed, but I’m even more upset about the people who have died.”
New Orleans is a city that has strong Catholic roots, and Hodges said that coming to Mass at the Cathedral helped her to feel connected.
“New Orleans is very Catholic, and this is our family,” she said.
Hodges said she has been able to make contact with all of her family members from the region, many of whom lost their homes.
“The scary thing is that we’re lucky. There are so many people who have nowhere to go, no transportation, no family,” she said. “We’re going to be OK. A lot of people aren’t going to be OK.”
Rozlin Broome, a parishioner of the Church of St. Ann in Marietta, spent several years in New Orleans as a student at Loyola University.
“I came away from my years in New Orleans knowing that these were the people with the best food and the biggest hearts,” she said, adding that it’s been difficult to watch the news footage of the devastation.
“It’s very trying, and I just know that everyone is doing the best they can in the circumstances. It hurts me to hear all the negative things. We have to be uniting in prayer. It’s the best thing we can do.”
Also contributing to this story was Mary Anne Castranio.