Bishops to name Katrina task force chaired by Archbishop Fiorenza

By Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. bishops are appointing a task force to be chaired by Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston to coordinate the Catholic response to recovery efforts in the devastated regions hit hard by Hurricane Katrina.

Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, announced the task force Sept. 14 at the end of a two-day Administrative Committee meeting in Washington.

The committee also issued a statement about hurricane relief: "Hurricane Katrina: Reaching Out, Renewal and Recovery in Faith and Solidarity."

In the statement, the bishops said Hurricane Katrina "wounded and devastated millions of our sisters and brothers along the Gulf Coast" and also "touched and now tests the rest of us. It tests our faith, our capacity to help and our vision of what kind of nation we are and wish to be."

"As powerful as the winds and water of Katrina have been, our ongoing care and help, our practice of charity and search for justice must become more powerful," the bishops said. "The hurricane and the flood came and went in a matter of hours and days. Our support, compassion and commitment to help make things right must last far longer -- not days, but months and years."

The bishops' task force in response to Hurricane Katrina plans to support the efforts of affected dioceses, encourage ongoing response from the Catholic community, coordinate relief efforts so they are most effective and also examine the hurricane's future implications for the church and society.

The bishops pointed out that Catholics have already responded in many ways to provide hurricane relief through prayers, generous donations and the recovery efforts of Catholic Charities USA and other Catholic groups. Dioceses have mobilized volunteers; Catholic schools and colleges have taken in displaced students; USCCB offices have offered help with relocation; and the Catholic Church Extension Society has offered to help rebuild schools, parishes and church facilities damaged or destroyed in the hurricane.

The bishops also noted that the Catholic community has far more to offer than just money, food, volunteers and resettlement help. They said the church can provide "a set of principles, a moral framework to assess what has happened and to guide what must be done."

"Along with others of every faith and background, we offer our Catholic tradition of teaching about the challenges we now must face together," they said. "These principles offer moral direction and guidance for continuing response, recovery and rebuilding."

The bishops stressed that within the recovery efforts it will be crucial to always maintain an awareness of the dignity of all people and a focus on the poor and vulnerable. They also said the recovery work should increase a sense of human solidarity, aim to reunite families and restore institutions of faith, work, education and health care.

The recovery efforts, the bishops' statement added, should also include care for creation and the recovery of decent work, wages and living conditions for the hurricane victims.

"For Christians," they said, "this is not just a work of humanitarian outreach. When we help those whom this storm has ripped from their homes and livelihoods, we are helping Jesus in our midst."

"For us as Catholic bishops, Katrina is more than a terrible natural disaster and human catastrophe," they said. "It is a test of our faith, our hope and our love."

"This is a time to live out the Gospel, turn our love into care for others, move our words into action, and practice the solidarity we proclaim," they added.

The Administrative Committee -- made up of the executive officers of the USCCB, elected committee chairmen and elected regional representatives -- is the highest policy- and decision-making body of the bishops apart from the entire body when it meets twice a year in general assembly.

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

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