August 29, 2007 / USS
Reflection on the second anniversary
of Hurricane Katrina.
We here in
Bay Saint Louis, MS remember a storm that changed not only the entire
Mississippi Gulf Coast and New Orleans physically but affected the hearts
and minds of uncounted men and women. I do not have the literary prowess
of a Jerome LeDoux yet I feel compelled to share with you reflections on
Its been a long time since we shared with you our experiences in 2005.
We reported to you the events of that horrible morning and its immediate
aftermath. We report to you today that the effects of the storm are still
very much with us. Like our brothers and sisters who a few months earlier
were struck by tsunamis in Indonesia and India we are still very much in a
Here at St. Augustine’s in Bay Saint Louis our buildings and grounds
are in good shape. A visitor would think that nothing happened on these
grounds two years ago. One would not believe that two years ago at the
very time of the day I write waters began to spread and get higher and
higher. However, one still sees the effects of that horrendous day not
only to our SVD community but the entire area affected by the storm.
For we Divine Word Missionaries our community has shrunk considerably.
There are only 10 of us here at the present time. With summer upon us and
people traveling there are at this moment only 6 of us here. Four people
assigned to the House are in Techny and one in Texas. Yet our spirits are
high and we have a wonderful community togetherness.
We are so fortunate because around us people are still hurting. Many
are still rebuilding their homes. Medical resources are inadequate.
Emotional problems are becoming a real concern. The mental health of
people has risen to unheard levels. Suicide rate is up, family problems,
abuse, crime, etc. are becoming all too common.
However, if it were not for the Church and religious faith of the
people I dare say the problems would be even greater. At Masses I
celebrated in Bay Saint Louis and New Orleans this past Sunday the people
came and prayed. They cried in New Orleans as the thousand or so people
who attend that 11 am mass remembered the long ordeal that they survived
and are still experiencing. Yet they come to Church despite the
devastation because Church has become a refuge and source of hope. In the
churches there are tears but also embraces and joy in the hope that God
will not leave us disappointed.
Yes, the Church has played a major role in bringing a sense of normalcy
to the people. Not only here in the ravaged areas but in Churches
throughout Southwest Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas and Georgia. Many of our
parishes have had to take in so many people who had to leave. This vast
migration of 2005 after the worst natural disaster in USA history will
leave a lasting imprint on this area. It has literally affected the entire
Southern Province and greater USA not just Bay Saint Louis.
I suppose the greatest gift we have received as SVDs who encountered
Katrina is the generosity and volunteer efforts from literally thousands
of people. So many volunteers came and helped us out here at the Bay. We
could never had cleaned up things without their assistance. To them we
will be eternally grateful.
Another gift is from our own Divine Word Missionaries from throughout
the world. So much generosity came from SVD throughout the world. Not only
monetary but letters of support and encouragement.
The Generalate for instance has been most supportive. One concrete
example is their asking about our condition in just about every letter we
receive. They ask about the Retreat Center and its status for they know
that this place can be a real beacon of hope to the many who are suffering
spiritually and emotionally. To Father Pernia and the others on the
Generalate staff we say thanks. We want you to know the Retreat Center has
been a source of refuge to countless volunteers from throughout the USA
this past year. Next year we hope to reopen the Retreat Center.
Many things have happened since that storm. We lost good men like
Robert Pung and Joe Simon. Yet our Province moves on and with young men
coming into our Province and new horizons opening up the future looks
bright. Every storm has an end and like our brothers and sisters in
Indonesia we will come back.
To all of you who care about us we say thank you. To the many friends
of the SVD we appreciate your kindness and prayers. To belong to the SVD
is both a privilege and an honor.
Hard to believe that the very hour I write these words we were on the
second floor of Christman hall wondering if we would have to up on the
roof. Yes, as the song says “Lord we’ve come a mighty long way”.
jim pawlicki, svd