How do we respond?
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A month ago, a bridge collapsed in Minneapolis, Minn., tossing cars into the Mississippi River and demonstrating the vulnerability of mankind even with all of its incredible architectural techniques and materials.
Both disasters should introduce a note of humility into our claims of mastery over nature. Despite our wealth, and technological prowess, we are not ultimately in control of our fates. Our pride continues to go before the fall. But these two disasters are also occasions to remember what the human spirit is capable of.
Last year, Father William Maestri, spokesman for the New Orleans Archdiocese, told Our Sunday Visitor that the wrong question to ask is why God allows such disasters to happen. The question that should be asked in these circumstances, he said, is "What do good people do when bad things happen?"
In Minnesota, good people rushed toward danger. Stories of heroism abounded as the bridge cracked and collapsed. A young man led the rescue of a school bus full of children. Another man dove heedlessly into the swirling waters and pulled a pregnant woman to safety. Many more people might have perished, if not for great acts of selflessness.
The same was true of New Orleans. Despite initial, and often exaggerated, media accounts of lawlessness, countless acts of heroism and sacrifice helped keep a terrible situation from getting worse.
Particularly noteworthy has been the Archdiocese of New Orleans' response to the crisis. The sacrifices it was called to make were not the snap decisions to jump or not to jump, but the costly and complicated long-term commitment to do anything possible for its grievously wounded city.
While public schools shut down for the year and local and federal governments hemmed and hawed in their response to the crisis, Catholic schools were opened, and teachers who may have lost everything showed up to do their jobs anyway. It was a gospel moment, and the church responded by teaching, feeding, clothing and comforting the abandoned and the needy. They continue this work to this day.
Such disasters can be occasions of despair, but we are challenged to trust. As Red Cross volunteer Judy Dawley told Our Sunday Visitor this week, "I saw people who relied tremendously on their faith, and in what most of us would consider unfathomable circumstances, they were able to say that whatever happens, that God is a good God. They were able to trust that whatever happened to their loved ones and their families, that God would take care of them."
In Minnesota, even as the search for bodies goes on, plans are being made to replace the bridge.
In New Orleans, the situation is complicated by a legacy of waste and corruption and a maze of bureaucratic red tape and poor leadership. Archbishop Alfred Hughes of New Orleans called the flooding of his city a "man-made disaster," and critics warn that the next killer storm may inflict worse damage. Even without a new storm, it may take a generation to recover from the Katrina tragedy.
Yet, come what may, the church is in for the long haul. With the heroes and victims of Minnesota, with the heroes and victims of New Orleans, the church is with its people, reminding all of us that when bad things happen, we are challenged to do good.
Our Sunday Visitor
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