Originally published on February 9, 2017 by the Catholic News Agency
Written by Mark Rezac, photo by Sean Gardner
It’s a scene all too unfortunately familiar for many in the city of New Orleans – that of devastation in the wake of a natural disaster.
On Tuesday, at least seven tornadoes ripped through the state of Louisiana, wiping out homes and leaving a trail of damage in areas of New Orleans that were hard hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
An estimated 250-400 homes were either destroyed or heavily damaged by the storm, and about two dozen people were injured, some of them seriously.
However, “the Lord has blessed us with not a single fatality at this time,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said at a news conference following the tornadoes.
Tom Costanza with Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of New Orleans was on the scene with aid workers soon after the tornadoes. He told CNA that they are beginning the “long process” of cleaning up and rebuilding.
Catholic Charities and local parishes have been providing immediate assistance at distribution centers such as the one at Resurrection of Our Lord Parish for the people in the area, he said, handing out food and providing initial counseling and case management services.
Catholic Charities is also partnering with the city, the Red Cross, and other aid organizations to meet basic and immediate needs, he said. A shelter for the displaced that Catholic Charities helped establish had 93 people in it last night. Thousands are still without power and probably will be for a few more days.
“What we’re finding is a lot of people were renters with no insurance who lost everything,” Costanza said, “so we’re kind of helping them get situated.”
Andrew Gutierrez, a seminarian for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, is also organizing a group of 15-10 men from Notre Dame seminary to go out and help with “whatever physical need these people need met.”
Because Louisiana doesn’t often get tornadoes, Gutierrez told CNA the seminarians are not entirely sure what to expect, but they want to help in whatever ways they can.
“We’re just going, this is what we do,” he said. When there was flooding in Lafayette and Baton Rouge last year, the whole seminary – more than 100 men – went out for a few days to offer relief.
“These are the types of seminarians that the church is forming right now,” Gutierrez said. “These are the kind of men that are entering the priesthood, men that are willing to meet people with a variety of needs, knowing that we ultimately go as Christ. So when we’re picking up a broken door, we’re doing it as Christ, with his joy, with his compassion and sensitivity to these people who are suffering.”
There’s also been a lot of interdenominational collaboration in providing relief, as there has been in other times of disaster, Costanza said.
“We all work collaboratively as a faith community when things like this happen.”
Archbishop Gregory Aymond of the Archdiocese of New Orleans released a letter to clergy to be read before all the Masses this weekend, asking for people’s help and prayers.
“We always need to see the face of Jesus in the lives of those in need,” he wrote. “Please join me in praying for those who have lost their homes and possessions.”
The Archbishop added that he was pleased by the “quick response” of Catholic Charities and other groups who were on the scene immediately. Archbishop Aymond is also scheduled to celebrate Mass at Resurrection parish this weekend.
And while it’s been devastating, by and large the people are handling it relatively well, Costanza said.
“There was a lady I was talking to in the shelter, and I said, ‘What happened?’ And she said, ‘Well I heard the tornado coming and God told me to go in the bathroom, so I went in the bathroom and the tornado ripped my roof off.’ And she said, ‘I listened to God, and I’m glad’,” he recalled.
“And she started quoting Scripture to me, and I said, ‘I can’t believe you’re Catholic, you know Scripture so well!’ She was spouting off all the Scripture that’s been comforting her,” he added, laughing.
“So our people are resilient. We’ve been through this before, we’ll get through it.”