New Orleans prelate shares ‘challenges of exile’ with fellow evacuees

By Nancy Frazier O'Brien
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In a letter to New Orleans Catholics dispersed throughout the country after Hurricane Katrina, Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes said he shared with them "the challenges of exile."

"Like the Jews of old, we long for a return to our holy city," said the New Orleans archbishop, who has been based in Baton Rouge, La., since the hurricane and subsequent flooding made much of New Orleans uninhabitable in late August.

He said he hoped to "soon be able to celebrate Mass in St. Louis Cathedral" in the city's French Quarter as "a sign of the resurrection of the church in New Orleans."

"It has been nearly a month since we have had the comfort of our own homes and the familiarity of our own archdiocese," Archbishop Hughes wrote in a letter released Sept. 22. "As the archbishop of New Orleans, and a fellow evacuee, I share in your sufferings, hold you in prayer and want to serve you in your needs."

The archbishop said he, pastors and other archdiocesan personnel faced "significant difficulties ... (in) finding the best way to communicate with so many evacuees scattered throughout the United States."

He encouraged New Orleans Catholics to keep up to date on news about the archdiocese and their parish or school through the Web site at www.archdiocese-no.org, and asked diocesan communications directors and newspaper editors to publicize his letter in dioceses where large numbers of evacuees have gone.

Archbishop Hughes opened the letter by expressing gratitude to "the host dioceses who have welcomed and assisted us," and especially to Bishop Robert W. Muench and his Diocese of Baton Rouge "for the extraordinary way in which they have received more than 200,000 New Orleanians and facilitated the development of a central administration in exile for the archdiocese."

He also praised "the extraordinary work that Catholic Charities of New Orleans is accomplishing in conjunction with Catholic Community Services of Baton Rouge and other relief agencies."

Reporting on recovery in the archdiocese after Hurricane Katrina, Archbishop Hughes said all the churches and schools in the parishes (counties) of St. Charles, St. John, Washington and "almost all of St. Tammany have resumed activity." Most portions of Jefferson Parish were expected to resume activity by early October.

"This marks a move toward bringing Catholic life in those areas to some degree of normalcy," he said. "Obviously, the challenges facing significant portions of Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes will require a much longer recovery process."

He urged pastors in "these most affected areas" to continue seeking out their scattered parishioners and to serve their needs.

"I am grateful to our priests who have aided in search and rescue and have accepted special ministries consoling the bereaved, serving evacuees in cities where there is a large concentration of New Orleanians and helping personnel in our own archdiocese," Archbishop Hughes said.

For the immediate future, he said, the New Orleans Archdiocese will continue to operate from Baton Rouge. But "we are seeking every possible way to be pastorally present in those communities that have resumed some normal activity as well as those communities that are displaced," he added.

Closing with a pledge of prayers for his dispersed flock and requesting prayers for himself, Archbishop Hughes said, "I believe that God calls us to move from being victims to victors in Christ Jesus."

END

09/23/2005 12:15 PM ET

Copyright (c) 2005 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

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