Katrina’s impact changes everyday parish life in Biloxi parish

By Carol Zimmermann
Catholic News Service

BILOXI, Miss. (CNS) -- Although Hurricane Katrina did not cause severe damage to Our Lady of Fatima Church in Biloxi, its impact was being felt in every aspect of parish life.

During a morning Mass Sept. 10 in a side chapel of the church, the hurricane was mentioned in the opening prayer, the homily, the petitions and the closing announcements. Even the Gospel reading from Luke was about raging floodwaters.

Deacon Charles Nutter, a seminarian in the Biloxi Diocese, said in his homily that he knew everyone was "tired, exhausted and had been through a lot," but he also emphasized that the recovery period needed to be "a time of prayer where we can draw our strength."

The petitions focused on those hurt or suffering from Hurricane Katrina and also for those involved in restoring order, but when parishioners were asked to state their petitions aloud, they only offered prayers of thanks either for those who helped them or for their own safety.

At the end of Mass, Father Patrick Mockler, pastor, told his parishioners that he would need some extra help. His choir director, who lost everything in the hurricane, had moved to the Carolinas, and he was also looking for an organist.

A more immediate need was to unload the 18-wheeler loaded with powdered milk and bananas that pulled into the parking lot just before Mass.

"Anyone that can help us unload, please do so," he asked the crowd. Many of them had already spent a good part of the week unloading trucks and sorting a colossal amount of donations, including 50,000 bottles of water, clothes and shoes, as well as baby supplies and medicines that were all distributed to anyone who came to the parish in need.

"Things are getting back to normal," the priest said, noting that the parish school was scheduled to reopen Sept. 19. "Please keep helping each other," he added.

Marvin Aleman and Marco Sevilla, who helped unload the bananas, lost their jobs and their cars in the hurricane.

"Everyone needs help. I'm here to help in any way I can," Aleman said in Spanish, which was translated by Father Mockler. Aleman said that in his native Honduras he lived through hurricanes but never saw one as bad as Katrina. But the devastation and personal loss did not defeat him.

"Everything's fine. The fact that I'm here and I'm not hungry, everything's great," he said.

Father Mockler, who supervised the unloading of the truck and greeted various parishioners who came to help or to check in after being away, told Catholic News Service that the church "kept people going" after the storm.

Mary Frances Ford, director of the St. Vincent de Paul Society at the parish, was working almost around the clock since the storm to keep the flow of donations and distributions in order.

Many who came to the church to get food, supplies or simply the information posted in the church hall lobby about where to find shelters, roof covers, free phone service and distribution centers might not have realized her part in keeping the parish hall distribution center running, but the parishioners surely knew.

"Mary Frances will be our new Mother Teresa," Father Mockler said at the morning Mass and the parishioners applauded in agreement.

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

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