Bishop William Houck
The name Katrina normally would be associated with a woman. However since 2005 the name Katrina reminds us of the largest and most devastating hurricane to hit the U.S. mainland in decades. The Mississippi Gulf Coast and Southeastern Louisiana, including New Orleans, were considered ground zero for this massive storm.
We all remember where we were at the time when the storm came ashore in the early hours of Aug. 29, 2005. Our memories help us to be grateful that we survived the destruction and have moved on to rebuild and re-establish our lives.
On that day, I was serving as president of Catholic Extension Society located in Chicago. Catholic Extension existed to help home mission dioceses and especially at times when they experience devastation of sorts to help them handle their problems. It was obvious from what I saw that I needed to get down to show our interest and concern, and to do what we could to be of help as soon as possible.
I contacted Bishop Joseph Latino, then bishop of the Diocese of Jackson, and said I would fly to Jackson and go with him down to the Gulf Coast to survey the needs. By the hardest, we were able to get into Biloxi as we traveled down Highway 49. The closer we got to the coast the more we could see the unimaginable devastation caused by the storm. The film footage on television news could not adequately convey the destruction caused by the 35 foot surge of the Gulf onto the coastline.
Archbishop Thomas Rodi who was at that time the bishop of Biloxi met us and gave us a tour. We were able to see at least in that area around Biloxi, but we couldn’t travel outside of the town down the coast because more than 40 miles along the Mississippi Coast had been devastated. Even driving in Biloxi was difficult because of the damage that had occurred with buildings and homes. There were no street signs, no real landmarks. The only visible surviving marker was the Lighthouse.
It was obvious that many people had suffered, much damage had occurred, even the big casinos that were over the water had been thrown over Highway 90 onto the land. It was a devastating sight that caused concern to well up within me for the people who endured this catastrophic event. I was grateful to be now in a position to be able to help rebuild.
There is a lot of information available about the damage and why it occurred and what levees broke and who suffered. But maybe our biggest lesson learned was to appreciate the help that came to Mississippi, the Gulf Coast and Louisiana and New Orleans from neighbors helping neighbors and from people outside who cared about helping others. As we live our lives today we have to be careful of getting too independent, feeling that I have a right to all I want to have and do. We have to accept the teaching of our Christian Catholic faith which tells us to show our love for Jesus in the way we love one another. But we have to make this application when there is not a hurricane threatening us or when we are living in a time when we are not asked to suddenly respond to a devastating tragedy.
The tragedy might be that we are living in the time when religion and faith, the commitment to God and to the value system of Judeo-Christian morality is suffering very much. To a great extent that is a tragedy of our times. What are we willing to do to reach out to others? To live our faith? To show to other people how much it means to be a community of faith, love, courage and forgiveness, truth, justice?
I suppose we need to thank God for the constant, continuing, loving compassion available from him as this loving Father of ours. Maybe we need to think more of responding to that love and to show his Son Jesus came to teach us and save us from our weaknesses and sins by revealing to us that we truly are called in his words as he said to us, “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Or in another way expressed in the early church beginning ministry of charity and caring: “See how those Christians love one another.” Our world needs us more and more as secularism continues to be marketed as such a challenging and difficult prospect to confront.
(Bishop William Houck was the President of the Catholic Extension Society when Katrina struck. Today, although he is the retired Bishop of Jackson, he is still active both in the diocese and with Extension, for whom he writes a weekly reflection.)
Bishop William Houck