I oftentimes heard spontaneous prayers of praise to God

By Bishop Roger Morin
It has been reported many times through the years that FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, defined Hurricane Katrina as “the single most catastrophic natural disaster in U.S. history.” Since August 2005, the single word KATRINA, ordinarily thought of as a lovely version of the feminine name Catherine, has taken on a significance all its own.  In our time, the word “Katrina” has come to mean disaster, destruction, and damage to human life, all sorts of buildings, and the landscape of the Gulf South, in particular, Mississippi and Louisiana.
Those of us who lived through the terrible tempest of Katrina can’t help but sense a feeling of displacement and loss when we hear the word Katrina.
Reportedly, more than a million people were displaced by this country’s most catastrophic natural disaster. More than 1,800 people lost their lives due to the ravages of cyclonic winds and raging waters. One single word, ‘Katrina’, summons up memories of the deadly disaster. Survivors’ first thoughts are recollections of the fright and the fear of an oncoming force capable of tearing down and uprooting our world of home and family. Experiencing the destructive wind power and the surging waters stirred up a feeling of helplessness and doubts about the possibility of surviving the storm.
The quiet after the storm did bring a ray of hope. I remember quite vividly that the sun did shine later on in the afternoon of  Aug. 29, 2005. The wind died down and debris, tree branches and roof  tiles littered the ground everywhere. After the roaring wind and driving rain, there was a consolation to a quiet that was almost eerie until there were new sounds: the readily identifiable whirring and air-chopping noises of helicopters that signaled activity and brought a glimmer of hope.
The new sounds overhead meant that someone was doing something to bring help.
We were yet  to understand the enormity of the damage or the degree of the human needs of homeless survivors.
The noise of air traffic brought a glimmer of hope but it was the tiniest of lights bringing new thoughts daring us to begin thinking about the “when” and “how” we would return to what had been normal daily living before the storm.  Little did we realize that at that moment we stood weeks, months, or years away from life as we had known it before Hurricane Katrina. Our estimation of storm damage was limited by our own range of vision and whatever we could behold for as far as our eyes could see.
In the aftermath of the storm, once media communications had been reactivated, we began to grasp the scope of the devastation.   Americans throughout the country had more information about the havoc wrought by the catastrophic natural disaster.
People across the oceans were being shown vivid images of human suffering as it was in the Gulf South as it was taking place. People from around the world who were watching or listening to the news were touched by the havoc, the homelessness, the thirst and hunger being endured by survivors.
Thousands of evacuees discovered that they were truly homeless as they were being housed in emergency shelters in the Gulf South region. Thousands of survivors went from being evacuees to being refugees as they were put on planes and airlifted to other parts of the country. Thousands of the displaced homeless persons had lost their homes and all their personal possessions, so, they never returned to the place that had been home.
I was serving as an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of New Orleans in  2005, so, I accompanied Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes in visits to evacuees who were being cared for in emergency shelters in the Baton Rouge area of Louisiana. I could identify with the evacuees’ homelessness and loss of personal property. I must admit, that I was inspired by the prayerful attitude of thanksgiving voiced by those who were dealing with post-traumatic stress resulting  from living through a disaster.
In visiting evacuees who were being housed in shelters, I oftentimes heard spontaneous prayers of praise to God for the blessings of survival. Evacuees who were already aware of catastrophic losses, spending long days on uncomfortable cots in public buildings, still were strong enough to say “Thank God” for the gift of rescue and survival. There were voiced intentions of facing the   future and starting over. People who were suddenly homeless, penniless and almost naked found a way to express gratitude for the blessings of life and gratitude for the presence of loved ones. It seemed that each person temporarily housed in a shelter was able to offer a short course on prayers of thanksgiving: thank God for the gift of life, thank God for the well-being of loved ones, and thank God for the good people who are providing food and shelter.
While the sounds of helicopters overhead brought the first glimmer of hope, those noises were, in due time, insignificant when compared to the outpouring of charity that came in from all fronts.  Tractor trailers and railroad boxcars brought the donations of food, clothing and essentials for daily living.  Most importantly, there were hundreds of volunteers who came from across the U.S. to give their time and energy to help us take the first steps towards cleaning up and rebuilding our homes, churches and schools.
On a daily basis, we became aware of the fact that caring, helpful volunteers made the biggest difference in disaster relief. First, neighbors who had fared better than those who had suffered staggering losses were the first to share with those in need.
Donations from compassionate citizens from around the country, east coast to west coast, made it clear that we were not strangers to them. We were all neighbors.
We needed help and as we were blessed by the good works and the charity of others. We had many, many more occasions to say “Thank God” for shelter, food, and clothing.  We were blessed day after day, week after week, month after month, by those who had not forgotten that Katrina had literally turned our world upside down and we needed friends to lean on as we stood up to take steps forward with the rebuilding our communities.
People of faith recognize moments of grace. Trials and tribulations are challenges  to the human spirit and moments to summon triumph from tragedy. Each step forward provides hope and aspirations for the possibility of victory over adversity.
While the terrain of the Mississippi Gulf Coast was seriously scarred from the events of August 2005, there are new structures, dwellings and community buildings that are monuments to resilience and persistence.   Rebuilt, renewed and restored communities give witness to a people who stand tall, heads lifted high, voices shouting into the wind: with God, all things are possible.  Praise the Lord!
(Bishop Roger Morin is the Bishop of Biloxi. Ten years ago he was the auxillary bishop of New Orleans.)

A resiliency that comes from deep within

By Archbishop Thomas Rodi
At morning Mass in the Biloxi cathedral on Sunday, Aug. 28, 2005, we prayed together that God would protect us and our neighbors from the approaching storm named Katrina. After Mass I made preparations to spend the night in my office at the Pastoral Center on Popps Ferry Road in Biloxi along with Msgr. Fullam and his puppy, called the priests I could contact who lived near the water making sure they would evacuate, and prayed.
The night and the following morning were long as Katrina made a direct hit on our beloved Gulf Coast. The Pastoral Center lost electricity. It was hot and humid, the beeping of battery operated computers incessantly filled the air, and the rain poured in through the roof which was shorn by the winds of all but its plywood deck. I watched as tree after tree on the property fell.
Finally, in the afternoon the winds subsided and I was able to return to my damaged but still usable house and checked on neighbors. I also began trying to contact my family in New Orleans to make certain they were safe and tell them I was safe, however, since internet and cell phones were not working, it took a couple of days to contact them.
The magnitude of the devastation would become painfully apparent during the next few days as I visited all the parishes south of I-10. I remember on Tuesday morning standing in the muck inside Sacred Heart Church in D’Iberville which had been flooded with ten feet of water and encountering for the first time the “Katrina smell” which I can never describe and never forget.
The losses were staggering: more than 200 people dead in Mississippi; more than 1800 dead throughout the Katrina-hit area. Tens of thousands of homes damaged or destroyed. People lost jobs, possessions, and loved ones. The Diocese of Biloxi suffered along with the entire community. Seventeen churches were destroyed or so badly damaged as to be unusable. Seven grade schools destroyed or badly flooded by several feet of water, likewise four high schools.
About one third of the active priests lost almost everything they owned except what possessions they took with them when they evacuated, and it was similar for the religious and deacons.
Despite the damage, our laity, religious and clergy immediately began to rebuild the diocese and the communities. The Biloxi diocese “broke the piggybank” and in the few weeks after Katrina distributed all the money at its disposal ($1.25 million) in $200 checks in an attempt to help people and to get the local economy going again. Schools gradually reopened (the first school on the Gulf Coast to open was a Catholic school, St. James). Neighbor helped neighbor. The long recovery process began aided by volunteers from across the country, many from Catholic parishes, who came to help.
The pain among the people over the following weeks and months cannot be described. Allow me, however, to offer three conversations I had with teenagers, among countless conversations, which exemplify the losses suffered because of Katrina.
One teenager explained to me how Katrina had badly affected her. But she explained it was worse for her parents. She told me that Katrina had destroyed the houses where her parents grew up, the place where they had their first date, church where they were married, the home where they first lived. She explained that in six hours her parents had lost every building which held memories of their youth and what an emotional loss that was for them.
As Christmas 2005 approached, I was speaking with another teenager and I said to him that he was probably looking forward to the Christmas holidays. He told no, he wasn’t. He and his family, like thousands of others, had lost their home and were living in a small FEMA trailer. He had no privacy, no personal space.
He looked forward every day to coming to school and getting out of the small trailer. As much as he liked Christmas, he wished that there were no Christmas holidays so that he could come to school every day.
Finally, a third teenager told me how he was in his home when the storm hit and Katrina’s 28 foot storm surge destroyed the house. He, his little sister, and his grandmother made it out of the house and swam for high ground through the howling winds with water swirling with dangerous debris. He told me he and his little sister finally made it to safety. I asked him “What about your grandmother?” The young man, with an expressionless face, but with eyes that betrayed the deep pain within his heart, said “I couldn’t save them both.”
Despite the pain, despite the loss, the people of Mississippi have a resiliency that comes from deep within. The communities and the diocese rebuilt, or perhaps it is more accurate to say, continue to rebuild from Katrina.
People from elsewhere in the country have often asked me if Katrina brought people closer to God. I answer that it depends on the individual. Suffering comes into every human life. We do not choose when we will suffer or how we will suffer. We do choose, however, what we will do with it.
Suffering does not leave us unchanged. We will choose either to become better or to become bitter. There were those who after the storm became more loving, generous, and faith-filled people. However, there were also people who allowed the pain of the storm to estrange them from God and from others.
This is true whenever “storms” come into our lives. Suffering can weaken us with bitterness or strengthen us in trusting in God. The Bible teaches that “We know that all things work for good for those who love the Lord.”  (Romans 8:28) The darkest times in life powerfully teach us that God is with us in all things and that with God we have nothing to fear and with God we can handle anything.
There is a poem that brought me great comfort after Katrina. I often saw the great live oak trees of our area after Katrina and how, though damaged, they were still standing tall. Those trees and this poem can teach the strength of being rooted in the faith when storms come into our lives. In 2005 I had the poem published in The Gulf Pine Catholic and many people commented on how it lifted their spirits. Allow me to offer the poem again on this 10th anniversary of Katrina.

The Oak Tree
by Johnny Ray Ryder Jr

A mighty wind blew night and day
It stole the oak tree’s leaves away
Then snapped its boughs and pulled its bark
Until the oak was tired and stark

But still the oak tree held its ground
While other trees fell all around
The weary wind gave up and spoke.
How can you still be standing Oak?

The oak tree said, I know that you
Can break each branch of mine in two
Carry every leaf away
Shake my limbs, and make me sway

But I have roots stretched in the earth
Growing stronger since my birth
You’ll never touch them, for you see
They are the deepest part of me

Until today, I wasn’t sure
Of just how much I could endure
But now I’ve found, with thanks to you,
I’m stronger than I ever knew

(Archbishop Rodi served as Bishop of Biloxi from 2001-2008 and was bishop when Katrina devastated the Mississippi Gulf Coast. He was named second archbishop of Mobile, Alabama on April 2, 2008.)

Our memories help us to be grateful …

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.)

Opportunity to make Gospel teachings truly come alive

Sr. Deborah Hughes
We are, each one of us, stones skipped across the waters of the universe. The  ripples of our presence…radiate forever.
Taken from Living Well by Joan Chittister
Reflecting back on the weeks and months after the largest hurricane to ever make landfall in the United States, I am struck by the unique correlation of the words: “the ripples of our presence” with the experiences of the many people in our diocese who were impacted by Hurricane Katrina.  Several thousand individuals – those who fled their homes from this life-changing storm, as well as, those who welcomed children and parents into new Catholic school communities – were indeed touched by faces and events that will “radiate forever”… because of memories deeply etched during the aftermath of Aug. 29, 2005.
During the initial period after that fateful Monday, more than 680 students from the Mississippi Gulf Coast and the New Orleans area enrolled in our Catholic schools.  Each of the 22 Catholic school communities in the diocese was impacted by increased student enrollment in those weeks after Hurricane Katrina had made landfall. Helping students and their families return to the normalcy that only the structure of a school-day schedule can provide became our major priority.
This storm, which so greatly changed the lives of vast numbers of families on the Coast and in the New Orleans area,  also generated a massive wave of compassion and heartfelt response throughout our diocese and, particularly, in the communities of its Catholic schools.
The  largest percentage of these new  enrollees registered in the three elementary schools and one middle/high school in the metro-Jackson area.  Elementary and secondary schools in Vicksburg, Natchez, and McComb also accepted large numbers into their student bodies, while smaller numbers of students enrolled in Catholic schools in Greenville, Greenwood, Clarksdale, Canton, Meridian, Columbus, Holly Springs and Southaven.
For each Catholic school community – administrator, faculty members, students and parents  – this challenge of new student enrollment evolved into an amazing opportunity to make Gospel teachings, daily presented in religion classes, truly come alive in everyday life.  This all transpired in and through the extensive and creative outreach efforts of each school community, adults and children, and the welcoming  of our “guests” from the Gulf Coast and Louisiana.
About 75 percent of the new enrollees had previously attended Catholic schools in the Diocese of Biloxi or in the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Many of these families had already prepaid their tuition for the year and were grateful to find a Catholic school  in the same area where they had just set up temporary housing. Other families, not familiar with Catholic education, were simply eager to have their children in a convenient educational setting and back on a consistent daily schedule.
Logistically, school resources needed to be assessed and monitored daily those first few weeks and at times, resources needed to be relocated.  We were, however, blessed with many willing and  generous volunteers!   Student desks surfaced as an immediate need where enrollment had increased significantly.  During those first two weekends after Hurricane Katrina,  numerous work groups were assembled at designated sites.  “Extra” desks were packed onto donated trucks and trailers and were transported to specific schools where they were needed; principals there had teams of volunteers ready to take care of the unpacking.
Principals and teachers spent many weekend hours making the necessary preparations and accommodations to welcome and assimilate new families into school communities. Items from school supplies (i.e. notebooks, looseleaf paper, pens, pencils, markers, etc.) to uniforms, to clothing for entire families, as well as, weekly dinners organized and served by parent organizations were provided and made available through many generous donations of the school and parish families associated with Catholic schools in the diocese. As they were needed, personnel from Catholic Charities and a number of other volunteer counselors offered services to both students and their families.
During this time, principals and faculties did a monumental job, especially on the high school level, of testing and placing new students in appropriate classes for their particular grade level. The practical aspects of bringing young people into new schools without any educational records, report cards, etc., was a huge undertaking.  Adding further challenge to this situation was the fact that most parents were very honest with school principals in expressing that they did not know nor could they estimate, how long their sons and daughters would be remaining  in their “adopted” schools.
As a diocesan system, we had decided early on that any “Katrina family” seeking enrollment in a Catholic school at this time would not be asked to pay any of the usual enrollment fees or tuition unless that family specifically indicated a desire to take on this responsibility.  The reality of increased costs for classroom space (I.e. portable units), teacher assistants and textbooks was closely monitored by the diocesan Office of Catholic Schools.
Each week in the ensuing months of the 2005-2006 academic year, principals were encouraged to send any invoices to the office if they were unable to handle the extra expenses incurred because of enrollment increases. Very few invoices were ever received…
As we endeavored to reach  out to meet the various needs of our Katrina families, I believe that we, in fact, experienced a modern day version of the Gospel of the Multiplication of the Loaves and the Fish!  Because of monetary donations received at the local school level, as well as, contributions from religious communities, Catholic churches and benefactors from all over the United States, our schools in the Jackson diocese were able to meet the educational expenses resulting from our increased student enrollment after Hurricane Katrina.
By Thanksgiving, the number of Katrina students had decreased by about 50 percent and during the course of the second semester, many other students returned to their former neighborhoods and schools. A donation from the National Catholic Education’s “Child to Child” Campaign and numerous other monetary gifts from across the U.S. served as a resource for the remaining Katrina students who were enrolled in our Catholic schools.
These families were able to apply for significant tuition grants from this special Katrina fund for both the second semester of the 2005-6 academic year and  also for the following school year.   Approximately 125 students re-enrolled in their “adopted” schools for the 2006-7 school year; many took advantage of the generosity of the individuals who made possible this invaluable resource.
Ten years later … these are but a few of the many “ripples of presence” which continue to be a poignant reminder to me of the far-reaching impact of Hurricane Katrina on Catholic education in the Jackson diocese.
(Sister Deborah Hughes was the Superintendent of Catholic Schools when Katrina hit. She now works with Sacred Heart Southern Missions in Holly Springs.)

Katrina brought out what is best and noblest in us …

By Msgr. Elvin Sunds
When Katrina hit Jackson we lost power for a couple of days. We also lost contact with much of the outside world since we did not have access to television.  However, when the electricity was restored we were glued to the television watching accounts of the devastation together with some houseguests from New Orleans.
We saw the devastation on the Mississippi Coast.  We also watched the terrible flooding and human suffering when the levees collapsed in New Orleans.  We watched the same scenes of devastation over and over again. We were like someone who has experienced a horrific tragedy.
He has to tell the story over and over again before his mind can accept the reality of the event. It was like that with us, we watched over and over again until our minds could accept the reality of the complete devastation of Katrina.  We our minds and emotions were numbed.
I remember driving to the Mississippi coast shortly after the storm with Linda Raff, then director of Catholic Charities.  We were meeting with officials of the Diocese of  Biloxi and Catholic Social Services to see how the Diocese of Jackson, Catholic Charities and the people of our diocese might help.  The devastation was unbelievable.
The areas closest to the beach reminded me of pictures of Hiroshima after the atomic bomb. Little was left standing. There were slabs and small piles of rubble where houses used to stand. The few trees that were left were stripped of leaves and limbs. They were mere skeletons of what they used to be.  As you went inland from the beach you were confronted with huge piles of rubble – trees, homes, boats, furniture, personal belongings, etc. swept by the storm surge into piles 30 feet or higher.
However, what was most memorable about Katrina was not the devastation but the tremendous response of so many people from within Mississippi and from all over the country. Catholic Charities in Jackson almost immediately began receiving relief supplies for the survivors.  Truckloads of supplies were arriving from all over the country.
Working with the Biloxi diocese and Catholic Social Services, distribution centers were set up in local parishes there on the coast. Catholic Charities directed truckload after truckload of relief supplies to the distribution centers. Warehouse space was donated in Jackson because supplies were coming in faster than they could be delivered.
Moreover, as soon as it was safe, volunteer work crews came to the coast from parishes in the Jackson diocese and from all over the country. There was a tremendous outpouring of compassion and support.
Hurricane Katrina was a devastating tragedy from which people are still struggling to recover. However, if there is a blessing it is in seeing people working together, helping each other and so generously giving of themselves. Katrina brought out what is best and noblest in us – our capacity to love selflessly and to compassionately help each other. Let us not wait for another tragedy before we bring out the best in us again.
(Msgr. Elvin Sunds was the Vicar General for the Diocese of Jackson in 2005. He is now sacramental minister at Jackson St. Therese Parish.)

(Photos by Fabvienen Taylor)

Our visitors would need hospitality for an extended period

By Father David O’Connor
On Sunday afternoon, Aug. 28, 2005, I  got some sense  of the anticipated impact of Hurricane Katrina as large numbers of people from  New Orleans and throughout the south rolled into the city of Natchez. Most arrived with very little supplies, hoping that Natchez and Adams County, approximately three and a half hours driving distance  from New Orleans, would have housing and food. By mid afternoon all hotel rooms were filled, grocery store shelves were empty, and panic set in for the newly-arrived  evacuees. One large shelter was opened before night set in. Crowds continued to pour into Natchez.
It was not until Monday morning that I and so many others learned that New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast was destroyed by the hurricane and its aftermath. By noon on Monday, an estimated 13,000 evacuees had arrived in our city of 17,000 people.
Six overnight shelters were opened and quickly filled. Schools were closed and volunteers from every part of our community were coming forward to  provide needed supplies, water, sleeping pads and food. Many evacuees were living in their cars, and many Natchez  families filled their homes and garages with these people.
Very quickly, I and large numbers of people in this city  realized that our newly arrived visitors would need  hospitality for an extended period. As best I can recall, our city,  its people, law enforcement and the Civil Defense provided for these for about 48 hours before outside help arrived.
By then outside help came, thanks to the services of the Red Cross. Food, blankets, water, volunteers and nurses arrived to give support. The kitchens of our public schools provided three full meals each day. Large numbers of volunteers of all ages came forward ready to help. St. Mary Basilica had a volunteer coordinator; and when I saw a need at any of the shelters, I could call for the number of volunteers needed. St. Mary also became a sorting and distribution center for clothes.
The churches of this city opened their assembly halls for clothing depots, and  the pastors offered counsel and consolation to large numbers. As an officer of the Ministerial Alliance, I kept my fellow ministers informed because of a briefing I got  each morning at the local office of the Red Cross. One of my churches, Assumption, was chosen as an overnight shelter. Congregation members created a home away from home for these people.
Doctors and dentists in my parishes volunteered their services. Another aspect of my experience of Katrina was that Cathedral School took in approximately 150 children from 49 different schools across the south. Parents volunteered as teacher-aides, local merchants and banks donated all the school supplies that these children needed; and although classrooms were crowded, I heard no complaints, and certainly I heard many words of praise and gratitude for the love and acceptance extended to them at Cathedral School.
My homily the weekend after Katrina was in response to misinformed rumors that “Katrina was God’s punishment of New Orleans.” My message was that God is not the author of death or evil and that the winds and tides that normally clean the air and the beaches combined in an unusual way to bring about destruction.
Some of the evacuees who were present at our overcrowded Masses the following weekend have come back to tell their stories. They fondly tell of their experience of God’s love in our church that weekend.
In the midst of all this, I remember some personal encounters as well. Dr. Charles Nolan, archivist for the archdiocese of New Orleans, and his wife Gale lived in downtown New Orleans. Before Katrina hit land, Gale decided to go to their new home in Long Beach; and he decided to remain near the archives in New Orleans.
After Katrina, cellular and land lines were destroyed, so was much of downtown New Orleans and the beach area of Long Beach. For four or five days they did not  know if the other had survived. It was not until six days later that they met at St. Mary rectory in Natchez where they remained for a few weeks. The Nolans are still close friends.
I also acknowledge the generous support – prayers, financial and other – from seminary classmates and friends in all parts of this country and in my home country.
I was proud of the response given by our city and its people to those who came seeking shelter. Church leaders and congregations worked closely to take care of the evacuees.  I had two experiences before Katrina that in some way prepared me. I spent a week as a volunteer in Kingston, Jamaica, after a devastating tsunami there; and I lived in a shelter for about a week in Newfoundland after my transatlantic flight was diverted there on 9/11. Working with the evacuees was certainly a personal blessing for me.
(Father David O’Connor is still the pastor at Natchez St. Mary Basilica and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parishes.)

The generosity of people … brought help and hope to so many

By Linda Raff
Katrina began for me with the evacuation of my daughter and her family and their friends from New Orleans.  With 80 mile hour winds howling and trees swaying and finally one uprooting around our 100 year-old-house, we tried to settle in and ride out the storm.  I went from room to room peering out windows to make sure we could escape if a tree began to fall in on the house.  With two babies in the house it was a harrowing experience.
Having stayed up all night, I gathered my strength and began to focus on Catholic Charities and how we could mobilize our resources for what would surely be the most challenging event in our history.  I can still feel how strange it felt to drive down State Street, deserted and with winds still howling.  Sister Donna Gunn and I were the only arrivals.  We discussed her role as disaster coordinator and scratched our heads a bit to determine just what that entailed.
With few resources initially, we determined manning the phones was the immediate priority.  Calls began to come in from all over the country offering goods and services as well as calls from evacuees from the Mississippi and Louisiana Gulf Coast. Because Jackson experienced high and sustained winds, power outages occurred all over the city.
Trees were down and many homes suffered significant damage.  The needs of Jackson citizens were great to say nothing of the evacuees.  Staff began to trickle in and answer the constantly ringing phones.  Mountains of supplies were announced to be on their way.  Hundreds of individuals and families needed these supplies so how to connect the goods with the people was the new priority.
Answering the call, long term saintly Governance Council member, Roger Vincent, located a warehouse in what is now New Horizons International Church.  He and Sr. Donna oversaw the stocking of the warehouse until we were able to hire a warehouse manager.  The supplies that were donated from all over the country were connected with thousands of individuals and families, many who had lost everything, many with significant damage to their homes, and many who did not know how their homes and property had faired.
Staff began to travel south to hard hit communities with basic supplies such as food, clothing, and cleaning supplies.  They accessed communities that no one else had reached. Sr. Donna actually spent the night in her office so that she was accessible 24 hours for a period during the initial phase.
Msgr. Elvin Sunds and I traveled to the coast to meet with the Diocese of Biloxi to determine if we had supplies that could help with their needs.  We toured the area and even though we had seen television coverage, nothing prepared us for the complete and utter destruction the coast had endured.
We drove from church to church and thru neighborhoods both rich and poor.  All had endured significant damage.  How could the poorest state in the country survive such a disaster, especially as it welcomed so many from New Orleans and surrounding area who had experienced equal if not greater damage?  How could immediate needs be met?
As it turned out, the generosity of people from all across the nation brought help and hope to so many answering the immediate needs of those with little or nothing.  Bishop Joseph Latino, bishop at that time, immediately established a second collection for victims and Catholic Charities began to distribute funds for rental assistance, food, utilities, etc.  New Orleans began to flood so there was a continual wave of people fleeing the rising waters.
My daughter and family and friends headed north to Senatobia, my son’s home, since we lost power and since they could not get back into their flooded city.  My daughter’s mother-in-law did not leave New Orleans before the storm so we had no word from her and remained concerned for two weeks as to her whereabouts.  Her house flooded and she was rescued from the roof of her house and deposited on an over pass with no food or water for several days.  She was ultimately evacuated to a small town in Texas and served by a small Baptist Church.  She was finally able to fly into Little Rock, Arkansas and join the family in Senatobia.
With mounting numbers of evacuees seeking relief from Catholic Charities, it was freeing to know that the family was all alive and well and temporarily located in a safe environment, with lights, water etc.  Catholic Charities, USA, our national membership organization, began to solicit donations nationwide and very soon had a large sum of money to grant to the gulf states.  Catholic Charities applied and received over one million dollars to help with short term as well as long term recovery efforts.
During this initial period Catholic Charities hosted a weekly meeting of all voluntary organizations that came to the area to offer assistance.  It was helpful to identify the groups; however, very few had tangible goods to offer.
There was much advice and some volunteer teams were available for repairing houses.  In addition, staff daily checked on all the evacuees that were housed at the Coliseum.  Finding pregnant women and seniors sleeping on the floor was alarming.  Upon hearing this need, St. Dominic Hospital supplied foam mattresses until cots could be secured.
The generosity of St. Dominic’s and other institutions greatly aided in the short and long term recovery efforts of Catholic Charities and other organizations.  With local help as well as the grant form Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Charities was able to hire long term recovery staff that distributed monetary aide and offered case management and clinical services over a five year period.
Thousands of families and individuals were given help and hope and were aided in their recovery.  The generosity of so many gave Catholic Charities the blessing of carrying out its  mission of being a visible sign of God’s love for all people at one of the most vulnerable times in the history of the Diocese.
(Linda Raff is the outgoing executive director of Catholic Charities, Jackson and a member of the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle.)

We all belonged to something bigger than ourselves

By Sr. Donna Gunn
When I was asked to write this article on the 10th anniversary of Katrina, my mind flooded with memories- memories of loss and devastation and inspiring memories of “heroes.”  So many faces and voices.  It was a time of my heart being torn by sadness and in the next moment inspired with hope.  I saw the kind of deep faith that surges when all else is taken away.
The Diocese of Jackson took in a quarter of a million survivors coming from the Coast and New Orleans.  I felt then and I feel now immense pride in how the diocese, parishes and faith filled individuals responded.
When I teach Catholic social teachings, I often begin with the reflection: “For whom do you weep?” Our response to Katrina was an evident sign that we weep with the most vulnerable, the lost, the lonely and the afraid.  I’m sure many of you can remember weeping, listening to the stories and being present to the fragile and broken.
For me it all began the day after Katrina when Linda Raff, executive director of Catholic Charities reminded me that one of my jobs was to be the diocesan disaster relief director – admittedly one who knew nothing about disaster relief.
Thus began a journey like no other. Linda Raff began attending daily meetings with other service providers to discuss what needed to be done, possibilities of collaboration and discussions of how to avoid duplicating efforts. Martha Mitternight was doing the same in the Catholic Charities satellite office in Natchez.  (Natchez doubled in size and some of our people had as many as 30 guests in their home.)
Catholic Charities staff  were told to make the huge number of calls asking for help their first priority.  We heard from people in towns near Hattiesburg who were trapped without food or water.  Our staff went to Wal-Mart and brought a truck load of needed supplies to that parish.  Thus began a delightful partnership with  Father Tommie Conway and the Diocese of Biloxi.
We would continue to send supplies down which were then distributed from tents pitched on the parish grounds.  When roads opened, they would direct some of those supplies directly to the coast. Remember, most communications were shut down, most cell phone towers destroyed. There was such devastation on the coast that much of the land was flat and barren. Only the Gulf would give anyone their bearing.  When I visited the main street of one of the coastal towns all I found standing was the cement bank vault.
Gradually as Linda attended daily meetings, two priorities for Catholic Charities became evident, emergency assistance and long term recovery.  Emergency assistance was particularly needed, especially as other agencies had limited or no funds to provide certain kinds of assistance.  We were able to set these priorities because we were the recipient of funds from a national Catholic Charities USA disaster collection, the largest in the national organization’s history.  We were blessed to be able to respond where others could not.
Supplies were coming in from all across the country.  Distributing those supplies had to be a priority. With the help of Roger Vincent, then the chair of the Catholic Charities board, we opened a warehouse.  For a long time, goods were just being stored in that warehouse because survivors had no place to put these goods.  After several complications, the largesse of good local businessmen and a wonderfully provident God, we were able to move the supplies into a recently closed grocery store which had left behind all the shelving and grocery carts.
Moving the supplies and setting things up like a department store would have been impossible without all the wonderful volunteers, many of whom where immigrant women the diocesan Office of Hispanic Ministry helped to transport. The folks coming and finding household supplies, clothing and toiletries is only a part of my memory.  I can still hear the delighted yelps in the aisles as neighbors met neighbors long thought missing or dead.  The warehouse became a refuge and a place of reconnection.
When I think of the warehouse, I have memories of the diocesan school office who, under the direction of Sister Deborah Hughes, made sure all the donated desks, texts, library books and school supplies were distributed to the schools in the most affected areas and to our schools in the diocese who were taking in tuition free those children Katrina had displaced.
About five years later, I was giving a mission talk at a parish in New Orleans. A couple introduced themselves as having moved up to Jackson in Katrina’s aftermath.  The woman had tears in her eyes and said they could never thank the Jackson Diocese enough for how it “saved” their children’s lives by taking them into a school and sustaining some sense of normalcy after the family had lost everything.
As Linda attended those daily meetings, the need for long term recovery case management services kept surfacing. All the agencies were responding to immediate needs, but who was there to journey with these survivors over the long haul and to help them re-create new lives?  Catholic Charities was the only agency to open a long term recovery office.  Social workers began case management helping clients set direction and long term goals; apply for FEMA; find housing and jobs; helping them re-locate with family, etc.  The Natchez satellite was doing the same and gradually, satellite offices were opened in Lincoln and Pike Counties.  The long term recovery office referred clients for counseling and mental health services.
So, this is a summary of my memories of some what we did – not complete by far.  For me, the 10th Anniversary of Katrina is an opportunity to look back and reflect on ourselves.  For whom did we weep?  What’s happened to them?   Have they been able to rebuild their lives and find hope again?  Widows and widowers know that grieving is a long process, not done in a year or two.  Let us pray for all Katrina survivors and hope that after 10 years they have found themselves again.
As a diocese, I believe the 10th anniversary of Katrina is a time to celebrate church. It was obvious during Katrina that we all belonged to something bigger than ourselves. There were the phone calls coming from around the country saying, “We are your brothers and sisters.  How can we help?”  Supplies pouring in with notes, “We want to share our blessings with you.” College students arriving en masse enthusiastic about using their gifts and youthful energy to “save” God’s people.
Parishioners responding to the Catholic Charities volunteer coordinator and coming from all across the diocese to work on the coast. In that process faithful from big parishes worked side by side with faithful in small parishes and missions.  No color lines; no economic status; only companions on the journey.  Individuals whose even in their “emptiness” were powerful inspirations.
(Sister Donna Gunn is now retired, but was Disaster Relief Coordinator for Catholic Charities during Katrina.)

She said “Welcome.” Since that day, we have been home

By Lindsay Blaylock
With two small overnight bags, photographs, diapers, and Our Lady of Prompt Succor’s intercession, Ron, myself, and our boys, Gabe (4) and Declan (7 months), evacuated our Metairie home at 2 a.m. Sunday.  We arrived at Ron’s parents’ Madison home at dawn. We watched as the levees broke and the city flooded.  I think I knew then I wouldn’t go home. Living in Jackson wasn’t part of that concept yet, but God had a plan.
A few days later, we learned that Ron had lost his job. He was running a photography studio whose roof had failed. His boss let us know that they would shelve the studio for the foreseeable future.
There was prayerful waiting – waiting to see when we could get back into the city, waiting to hear from friends and family about their plans, waiting for insurance questions to be answered, waiting for guidance.
My mom, a fellow evacuee, and I began attending daily Mass at St. Richard Church in Jackson. I felt peace. A posting in the parish bulletin alerted us to temporary work for Ron, a job supervising storm clean up crews.
Delays to return to the city persisted.  We heard if we could enroll our child in school for some stability, we should do so.   I walked into St Richard School and announced “I think I am here to register my son???” The secretary, Mrs. Georgia (Sckiets), compassionately walked me through the necessary paperwork.  As I handed it to her, she smiled at me and said “Welcome.” Since that day, we have been home.
Approaching his new classroom, I remember thinking, “He already has a school, God. We bought the uniforms already.”  The warmest smile greeted us that day.  Mrs (Tricia) Meyers put us at ease.  While I read about sleep behaviors and eating habits changing in kids post Katrina, I watched my son thrive.  In the next few weeks, he was learning to read and coming home happy.
One of the greatest gifts God gave us that fall was a lesson in material detachment.  We had practically nothing.  We didn’t have any of the comforts of our home.  The small apartment we rented was empty, save for a wicker love seat, an inflatable raft, a table with four chairs and our air mattresses.  It was amazing to sit there with nothing around you and feel fine with that.
Our home was a wet mess.  We lost a lot. Yet, Ron was already picking up freelance work in Jackson and reconnecting with friends.  He was determined to make the best of our time here. I was having trouble.
Gabe was invited to a classmate’ s party. With Mapquest not yet with us, I had directions on a looseleaf and got lost anyway.  We arrived 45 minutes late.  A woman named Deborah introduced herself as a New Orleanian and said, “You are Gabriel’s mom, right?  I’m so sorry.”  New Orleans is a small town and we discovered schools and neighborhoods in common….her husband was the parishioner who placed the job notice in the bulletin.  He grew up behind our flooded home … was the big tree still standing? I left the party with a live goldfish and a new friend.  From that moment on, she became a trusted advisor on everything from local pediatricians to po-boys.
And this kindness was repeated! At Halloween, a parent from the class called and invited us to trick-or-treat with them.  Although we had not ordered them, fair T-shirts arrived in the folder.   A baby blanket, extra lunch tickets, a jogging stroller at the white elephant sale.  People we would meet would say, “We’ve been praying for you. How can we help?” The “St R” community was a haven for us.
So, we decided to stay.
When Katrina came ashore and the levees broke, my heart broke with them.  Looking back, I can see God’s hand in all of it.   When my parents lived here briefly in the 70s, I was actually baptized at St. Richard.  I think God was leading us to life here.  I think He was leading us to the education He wanted for our children.  He chose a school built in the shadow of the church.  A place that lived its Catholic faith from administration down to the simplest art projects.  Everyone was generous with us in all the ways that matter.
We sing the Prayer of St. Richard after Communion at every weekly school Mass.  It opens with “Thanks be to you, my Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits that you have given me…” At this 10 year mark, I can say He has given our family so many.  The St. Richard community showed us Gospel charity in action – We were strangers and they welcomed us.
(Lindsay Blaylock works for the Special Kids program at St. Richard School. Her husband, Ron, is a photographer in Jackson. They are members of Jackson St. Richard Parish.)

There were three scriptures that kept me sane

By Karla Luke
On Aug. 28, 2005, I never would have believed that when we left our New Orleans home in anticipation of the approach of Hurricane Katrina that we were never to return. We had gone through those motions many times before and had always came back home! But, there was something very unusual about this time. The Saturday and Sunday before the arrival of the storm were deathly quiet; no birds, no squirrels, not even dogs barking. In retrospect, I should have known that it would be bad.
The events of the storm have been recounted by many people many times and our story is not all that different. We were blessed to have the financial and physical means to evacuate before the storm, we sat in traffic for hours, we weathered the storm in a hotel, and finally, prepared to return home only to learn that we could not go back. We had already checked out of the hotel before the emergency notification from the federal government asked that everyone stay put. So there we were, we could not go back to the hotel and could not go home to New Orleans.
My family and I were in limbo until a kind and gracious “sister-friend” opened her home to us for two months. It was so very hard. The loss was incredible. Not that we had a million dollar mansion, but it was our home. Not that I worked for a Fortune 500 company, but it was my job. In the weeks and months to come, the loss would only intensify as we made important decisions that would soon become final. Since I was a little child, saying goodbye was always difficult for me. I had to learn to say goodbye over and over again: to the material things: the house, the job, a car, clothes, furniture; and to the emotional: my wedding photos and baby pictures, mementos, friends and most of all to my family.
There were three scriptures that kept me sane during Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13); “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11); and “we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28). I recited them daily, sometimes even hourly. They became my evening prayers before I went to sleep and my morning prayers when I arose.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I could not understand why this happened. As a middle school science teacher, I certainly understood the geography and the topography of New Orleans, so comprehending that part was logical. What I could not fathom was how to even begin to start again and pick up the pieces of our lives after citywide flooding that destroyed a great part of the community. I was weak and very sad.
This scripture gave my husband and me the courage to make those hard decisions, to look into the faces of our children to reassure them that everything would be okay. It was not easy but we were able to do it because of the reassuring presence of God. Each morning I woke up was proof that scripture was true.
“For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11). I could not help but think that God removed us from one situation to place us in a better situation. I had to take comfort in realizing that the all-knowing and all-powerful Father had a better plan for us than the one that we had for ourselves.  Through this disastrous event, we were able to purchase a beautiful new home, and we were blessed because my husband’s company transferred him to an office in Jackson with a great position. My children entered new schools and made lifelong friends. Through the “calamity,” we found a hopeful future.
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28). The experience of going through Hurricane Katrina was horrendous for me. I did not know if ever a day would come that I would not cry, be sad or sick to my stomach, but God used the horrors of that storm to give me a new faith. I totally leaned on God (my strong husband too) to see me through this time.  “And He who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ And He said, ‘Write, for these words are faithful and true.’” (Revelation 21:5). And God did.
One thing that I noticed in flood ravaged New Orleans when we were able to return to inspect the damage to our home and property was the Blessed Virgin Mary. I observed that in all of the places where the statue of Mary was displayed, there may have been damage to the property but the statue of Mary stood straight and unharmed. We always prayed to Our Lady of Prompt Succor for protection from storms. Throughout Mary’s life, she trusted in God and he took care of her. The subliminal message sent by that visual was to be strong in faith and God will protect you, even if you don’t understand everything at the time.
Since coming to Jackson 10 years ago, many things have changed for us. My husband continues to work for his company and has been graciously received into the community. My children have graduated from high school and college and have wonderful jobs. Our family bond could not be stronger.  I have continued my work in Catholic schools as a teacher and administrator, now serving in the Office of Catholic Education. I feel so blessed and happy in this state of my life. Every now and then, when I think of how it used to be, I may get a little sad. I still miss my family and friends but the time spent visiting has become much more precious and meaningful. The quantity of time we spend together has decreased but the quality of the relationships has increased.
We must continue to pray for all of the people who were and continued to be affected by the destruction of the storm. Many people lost their lives and still others have not been able to recover financially or emotionally from the effects of the storm. To those people we must offer hope for a new and brighter future.
I continue to be eternally grateful to all who helped us along the way: my “sister-friend” who provided shelter and support, the Jackson, Mississippi community, especially St. Therese Parish who welcomed us and became our church family and God who continues to guide me and keep safe. “Behold, I am making all things new. Write, for these words are faithful and true.” These words are indeed faithful and true.
(Karla Luke is the coordinator of operations for the Office of Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Jackson and a member of Jackson St. Therese Parish.)