The power of the wind – our Catholic response
You left a bishops’ meeting early last week to get back home because of the extensive tornado damage in the LaPlace area. What did you see when you visited the people who were affected by the storm?
It’s amazing to witness the power of the wind, and it’s heartbreaking to see people lose not only their homes but also their belongings, so much of what is significant in their lives. At the same time, the people I spoke to, while certainly regretting the loss of so many things that were dear to them, were extremely grateful that their lives had been spared. Some of these people in LaPlace are the same people who were hit a few years ago by Hurricane Isaac, so they’ve been through a lot.
You also visited the archdiocesan senior residence in LaPlace called Place Dubourg.
Yes. There are about 120 residents there, and when I visited there were about 60 who were still there despite the building being out of power. The outside of the building was damaged, but the inside was spared. A few years ago we installed a big generator to keep the first floor powered up in case of a major storm, and that worked well so that the residents could have a comfortable place to gather in a community area. When I got there, they were passing out flashlights that had been brought in and donated by a Lowe’s store in Biloxi. I was able to meet with the residents and to pray with them. I must say they were in good spirits and deeply grateful that their lives were not affected. It’s at moments like these when we realize that nature is so powerful. People always ask, where was God in the midst of this? God was there, trying to comfort those whose houses were destroyed or badly damaged. God was trying to raise up a spirit of hope. God does not send tornadoes or hurricanes. He allows nature to take its course and promises that in those difficult situations, he will be there as our rock and our foundation, as the heart we can cry on and as the ear that listens to all of our concerns. When I got to Ascension of Our Lord Parish on Wednesday evening, the Knights of Columbus were serving supper to victims of the storm. As I was greeting the people in line, I was asking each one how much damage they had experienced. I was impressed that so many people told me they didn’t have any damage, but they were there to pick up food for their next-door neighbor or for an elderly person who couldn’t get to the church. I was really touched by that. It’s in moments like these that the very best of humanity comes out and we really do act like Christ would want us to act.
What about the response of the church and various archdiocesan agencies after the storm?
I was really proud of the pastors at St. Joan of Arc and Ascension of Our Lord in LaPlace and Our Lady of Grace in Reserve for coordinating the relief efforts in the area. We also had teams from Catholic Charities helping with counseling and case management, and we had food and supplies brought in by our Second Harvest Food Bank. It truly was a team effort, and the church was on the front lines. I’ve received a lot of compliments from people acknowledging that the church was there.
You also were at Xavier University of Louisiana last week to greet and offer a blessing at the inauguration of new Xavier president Dr. C. Reynold Verret. What do you know about Dr. Verret?
I had a chance to meet him shortly after his appointment last summer. He’s a true academician and a good leader. He’s also a man of faith who takes very seriously his commitment to Christ and his being Catholic. I think he will continue to strengthen the Catholic identity of Xavier University of Louisiana. We’re aware that Xavier has many non-Catholic students, and we certainly want to minister to them and welcome them. At the same time, we are Catholic, and Xavier is a Catholic university. Dr. Verret is committed to continuing to develop Xavier’s Catholic identity. He’s following Dr. Norman Francis who has been at Xavier for 48 years and has been legendary in the way in which he has led Xavier in its growth. Following Dr. Francis is no easy task because of that history and those many strong relationships Dr. Francis developed inside and outside the university. But I think Xavier’s board of trustees has chosen well. Dr. Verret will be able to build on the relationships that were formed in the past and will be able to take the university in some new directions, all while giving honor to the legacy of St. Katharine Drexel, who founded Xavier and Xavier Prep and who did so much to build up African-American Catholics in Louisiana and throughout the United States.