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Katrina’s aftermath

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This editorial originally appeared in the Sept. 18 issue of Our Sunday Visitor, a national Catholic newspaper. The Pilot editors felt it was appropriate to cede our editorial space this week to share this message with our readers.

“God alone truly pardons, man sometimes pardons, nature never pardons.” — Jerome Lejeune

Nature was unforgiving last month in the Gulf Coast of the United States, and the horrors left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina should scorch America’s soul. It is not simply the sights of the drowned and the dying, the dead sitting in wheelchairs or wrapped in sheets on the side of the road. It is not simply the thousands upon thousands of people shoehorned into impromptu refugee centers like the New Orleans Superdome.

What should scorch our souls and trouble our dreams are the sights and sounds of the weakest and most defenseless Americans bearing the brunt of the storm and its aftermath: our youngest citizens and our oldest, our poorest and our most neglected.

Hurricane Katrina became an opportunity for round-the-clock news coverage of that class of people that neither political party wants to mention during their endless political bickering: the poor.

As with most disasters, Hurricane Katrina has left us images of great heroism as neighbor watched out for neighbor, and strangers risked their lives for the sake of another. The aftermath of the storm has been a testimony to the generosity of the individuals, cities and states that have opened their hearts to the refugees of the Gulf Coast.

Yet the storm has been remorseless in baring our society’s weaknesses as well. We have heard the desperate stories of people too poor to evacuate, or too dependent on medical treatments like respirators or insulin, who apparently were written off by the disaster planners as some kind of collateral damage to be expected when a huge hurricane inevitably hit.

How can one read the fierce words of Scripture regarding the poor and the weak and not be horrified at the abandonment of those who are most defenseless to bear the brunt of nature’s fury and its aftermath? And how many of us realized how desperately poor many of our fellow citizens are until Katrina forced us to hear their stories?

At a time when government at the local, state and national levels has been convicted of woefully inadequate planning, it is appropriate to meditate on the importance of responsive government. A disaster of this magnitude cannot be dealt with by fiat or by politicians’ promises to do better next time.

The Church teaches that government plays a critical role in safeguarding the common good. While all of us must be mindful of the common good, government is needed not only to keep the peace and respect the rights of the individual, but also to help provide the conditions for social well-being: food, work, health, education and culture.

The magnitude of this disaster, and the fault lines it has exposed in U.S. society, remind us again that for all the anti-government rhetoric of the past 30 years, government has an indispensable moral role to play. There is a moral dimension that comes with maintaining and building up a community’s infrastructure, from levees and roadways to care for the homeless and the sick, and this dimension becomes most visible when we see the fruits of its failure.

In the week after Katrina, America looked — to itself and to people around the world — like any other Third World country in the midst of a natural disaster. Perhaps as we go about the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast, we will see ourselves with a new humility, and commit ourselves with new resolve to protecting the good of all by extending America’s blessings to all its citizens.

National day of prayer and remembrance

President George W. Bush has declared Sept. 16 as a “national day of prayer and remembrance” for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Parishes throughout the archdiocese will offer special prayers Sept. 16 for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Some may even schedule a special Mass later in the day in recognition of this national disaster.

In a letter to all pastors in the archdiocese, Bishop Richard G. Lennon said that “this is an opportunity for all of us through prayer to unite ourselves in supporting those suffering from the damage caused by the Hurricane and those struggling to bring relief and comfort to those in such great need.”

Those unable to attend Mass Sept. 16 can still join in prayer. God will listen to us all.

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