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Archbishop Hughes on Rebuilding Hope in New Orleans

Archbishop's Post-Katrina Plans

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, MARCH 6, 2006 (Zenit) - New Orleans Archbishop Alfred Hughes has been busy mending his archdiocese and reaching out to the devastated community since Hurricane Katrina hit last summer.

More than 75% of the parishes and schools are in service to the local community and Catholic charitable groups are ministering to those most in need.

Archbishop Hughes shared with us that he and the faithful are convinced that God is with them in their efforts at recovery and rebuilding, despite the daunting tasks that still lie ahead.

Q: What has the response to the hurricane aftermath taught you about the faith of the people around New Orleans and the Gulf Coast?

Archbishop Hughes: I have been deeply inspired by the faith of the people.

A number of the faithful have asked "Why?" not because their faith has been shaken, but to express a faith seeking understanding of what God is asking of us as a Church in response.

When I visited the shelters providing basic food and clothing to those who are the poorest of the poor, those still dealing with the shock of what had happened, they wanted to share prayer and sought the gift of a Bible or a rosary in their distress.

The Church in New Orleans is accustomed to praying for the intercession of Our Lady of Prompt Succor for protection of our city. As we celebrated her feast on January 8, 2006, the homilist, Father Joseph Palermo, rightly addressed the question that was in the hearts of some of the pilgrims who came: Where was Our Lady of Prompt Succor on August 29, 2005?

He then went on to speak of Mary's role in her own son's Passion. She did not try to prevent his crucifixion but was present and supportive throughout, standing at the foot of the cross. I have the sense that the faithful are convinced that God is with us in our efforts at recovery and rebuilding.

Q: What is the next stage in your ongoing work of recovery in the Archdiocese of New Orleans?

Archbishop Hughes: To address the next stage, it is important to realize that the first stage involved our outreach to people in need. We sought every means to offer humanitarian aid and pastoral care.

The second stage was our efforts at the restoration of parishes and schools.

The third saw us enter into an extended pastoral planning process for that 25% of the archdiocese that could not be restored right away. The next stage is now more long range as we address the final 25% of the archdiocese.

We are opening cluster parishes and central schools to cover wider geographical areas. We are also opening new community service centers to reach out to those most in need.

Q: How do you hope to rebuild the parishes, schools, hospitals and community centers over the next two years?

Archbishop Hughes: Through the pastoral plan we have now developed, we have identified those buildings that we are first focusing attention on restoring. These will be the buildings that will serve as cluster churches or the regional schools.

We will ensure the preservation and insurance of the buildings that we cannot restore at this time. We will seek to finance the restoration effort through insurance money, loans from the Small Business Association, FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] reimbursements and the use of our property for collateral for the realizing of significant capital for rebuilding.

We estimate that we have approximately $84 million of uninsured losses. That is why it is important to focus our attention on those buildings that are more easily restored now while we await word on what kind of insurance settlements, FEMA assistance and loans we can realize.

The bishops of the United States have authorized that 30% of the monies they have generously raised in their dioceses can be applied either to operational deficits or capital expenses. The rest is earmarked for humanitarian aid.

Q: How has the Church been reaching out to the faithful and other community members?

Archbishop Hughes: From the beginning, the pastoral care of people most impacted by the hurricane was a high priority. Priests assumed responsibility in the shelters and at the airport where the sick were being triaged.

We assigned priests to work together with the bishop of each of the six other dioceses in Louisiana and also in Houston, Dallas, Austin, Jackson and Atlanta so that evacuees in shelters could receive pastoral care.

Priests served the rescue workers, they accompanied families to the morgues and they tended the sick.

Then those who were displaced became pastors of virtual parishes. They explored every means to reach out and contact parishioners to find out their needs, to express pastoral concern and to try to help them connect with ...

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