Most bishops in hurricane’s path accounted for

By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Efforts by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Washington headquarters to get through to bishops whose dioceses were in the path of Hurricane Katrina generally met with success in the initial days after the hurricane, as power and telephone outages left bishops and laity alike incommunicado.

Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast Aug. 29.

As of the morning of Sept. 1, the USCCB had yet not heard from Bishop Sam G. Jacobs of Houma-Thibodaux, La., but had heard from a priest who had seen him. The other bishops in the hurricane-affected region had been accounted for.

Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes of New Orleans was staying at a parish in Baton Rouge, La., and with the assistance of Louisiana state troopers was visiting shelters in the Baton Rouge area. Baton Rouge, about 80 miles from New Orleans, has taken in 100,000 people from New Orleans.

Archbishop Hughes joined with Bishop Robert W. Muench of Baton Rouge, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and other civic and religious leaders for a prayer service at the Office of Emergency Preparedness Aug. 31.

"This is a challenging moment for us all," the archbishop said at the service. "God has brought us to our knees in the face of devastation. We do not really know how to respond. Powerlessness leads us to prayer, and when we turn to God, God offers us his grace."

He asked for prayers for those "who have been taken from our midst" and for those who are "organizing the response and leading our people so well."

Archbishop Hughes also prayed for those who might take advantage of the desperate situation by looting or preying on others.

"Remove us from any evil in this time of need," he said. "Lord, do not let us be impacted by the actions of those who increase the suffering of others by taking advantage of the situation."

Bishop Thomas J. Rodi of Biloxi, Miss., called USCCB headquarters with the word that he was safe and in his office, but with limited cell phone service and no water or electricity. He said 20 percent of the diocese's churches and a third of their schools had been destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, and that every rectory, school, convent and diocesan building sustained moderate to severe damage.

Bishop Joseph N. Latino of Jackson, Miss., spent much of Aug. 30 looking for a niece of his who lives on the Mississippi coast, reported Janna Avalon, editor of the Mississippi Catholic, diocesan newspaper. "I don't know if he was successful," she added. Bishop Latino met with diocesan officials in his office Aug. 31, Avalon said.

Bishop J. Terry Steib of Memphis, Tenn., who was ordained to the priesthood in the Society of the Divine Word, was stranded in Bay St. Louis, Miss., where his order has a monastery. His car was destroyed in the hurricane. "I saw him Saturday afternoon (Aug. 27)", said Divine Word Father Brendan Murphy in a telephone interview with Catholic News Service from Jackson. However, a bridge to Bay St. Louis was out, and Interstate 10 was flooded, which made driving into or out of Bay St. Louis impossible, he added.

Bishop David E. Foley of Birmingham, Ala., said electricity at diocesan offices had been restored, and he has been meeting with advisers on the hurricane and its aftermath.

"We've been blessed. Our main thing was trees down and power lines down. But there wasn't any real flooding or anything as serious as Mobile or even Gulfport (Miss.) or New Orleans," Bishop Foley told CNS. "My house, I don't have electricity," he added, but given the situation in other dioceses, "so what? ... There's no comparison."

Archbishop Oscar H. Lipscomb of Mobile, Ala., reported to the USCCB that he was OK, as had Louisiana Bishops Ronald P. Herzog of Alexandria and Michael Jarrell of Lafayette. The extent of damage to their diocesan properties could not be immediately learned.

Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., USCCB president, called for a national collection and prayers in churches for those afflicted by Hurricane Katrina.

"All the bishops of the United States are concerned for the number of church personnel who are isolated, working under great adversity, and perhaps not even aware that the whole rest of the country is praying for them," he said. "We don't even know if all of them are safe."

Bishop Skylstad said many of the affected dioceses "are the least able to cope with this adversity."

"Most of the dioceses are home mission dioceses, which struggle to survive under the best of conditions," he said. Home mission dioceses are those which cannot operate solely on local donations and rely on other dioceses for support.

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Contributing to this story was Peter Finney Jr. in Baton Rouge.

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