By Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond
Clarion Herald – 2/18/17
Your heart and your prayers must go out to the people of New Orleans East who lost so much in the tornadoes on Feb. 7.
It’s difficult to imagine the full scope of their suffering. Many people whose homes were destroyed or heavily damaged by the tornadoes had to rebuild after Katrina, and this is a heavy burden for them to have to bear. When a natural disaster strikes, we turn to God in prayer and ask for God’s grace to be the hands and heart of Christ to our neighbor. We are called to be like the Good Samaritan, who went many extra miles to help the robbery victim who had been attacked on the road to Jericho. Each of us can do something to help, whether it’s through making a financial contribution to our archdiocesan relief efforts or by opening our homes to families who are looking for a place to stay. At challenging times such as this, we give thanks to God that no one was killed. Despite the wide path of destruction, the fact that there were no fatalities is an amazing blessing.
What was the scope of the disaster?
We understand that between 250 and 300 homes in New Orleans East were either destroyed or heavily damaged. While many of those homeowners had disaster insurance, the same probably isn’t true for those who lived in apartments. Many people live in apartments along Chef Menteur Highway. In some cases, all of their possessions are gone, and many don’t have the financial resources to recover quickly. That’s why I’ve asked Catholics in the archdiocese to make a financial contribution to the Archdiocese of New Orleans (7887 Walmsley Ave., New Orleans, LA 70125). These gifts will be given directly to Catholic Charities in order to care for those in need. Individual church parishes also may take up a second collection if they wish. Our people have been so generous in times of need, and I’m confident they will respond with generosity once again.
What has the archdiocese been doing in its response?
Catholic Charities and Second Harvest Food Bank were on the scene immediately. Catholic Charities partnered with the Red Cross at the shelter that was set up at Joe Brown Recreation Center. Catholic Charities provides case management, mental health counseling and crisis counseling. The Red Cross provides the emergency shelter for about 100 people. Second Harvest is our food bank, and they deployed thousands of meals as well as water, snacks and clean-up supplies in the days after the storm. They will be there as long as needed. We also had Father David Caron, who is our vicar for evangelization, talking to people at the emergency shelter, simply listening to their stories, reassuring them that people were working to help them and praying with them. There were a good number of people who didn’t have any electricity because of the scope of the tornado. That’s always a challenge. A number of our schools dipped in enrollment last week because the children were helping clean out their parents’ or grandparents’ houses. Father Dave told me people stayed at their offices overnight because they didn’t have any electricity, some stayed with relatives and some went to hotels. I know the schools that remained open were doing their best to counsel the students who had lost their homes. This is a traumatic event, but Father Dave said several people told him, “God’s going to make a way where there is no way.” So their spirits are great.
It looks as though the homes close to Resurrection Church were the most affected by the tornadoes.
Yes. While I was out of town last week for a meeting, I spoke with Father Geoffrey Muga, the pastor of Resurrection Church, which is just a few blocks from the devastation. I went on Sunday to celebrate the 10:30 a.m. Mass at Resurrection, and I was able to walk through the neighborhood after Mass to see the damage and pray with the people. So many homes were destroyed. Father Geoffrey was wonderful right after the tornado in walking the neighborhood and praying with people and seeing what he could do to help. We’ve set up a point of distribution at Resurrection Church and School because it’s got a big parking lot and is so close to the damage zone. The church and school did not sustain any major damage, which just shows the vagaries of a tornado. The school had to remain closed for several days because of the lack of electricity, but I’m thankful for the way in which Vickie Helmstetter, the Resurrection principal, and her staff kept the children calm. All 480 students went into their weather alert mode and took cover beneath their desks, and thank God, nothing happened at the school. We are just so thankful that no one was killed. I would ask everyone to continue their prayers that the affected people of New Orleans East make a full recovery. We always need to see the face of Jesus in the lives of those most in need. Please join me in praying for those who have lost their homes and their possessions.
Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org