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Meeting needs of evacuees is sharing Christ with needy

By Bishop William Friend
Catholic News Service

The tragic outcomes stemming from Hurricane Katrina have prompted many people to migrate from New Orleans and its surrounding cities to other areas of our nation. It is a true Diaspora, at least for the months to come.

I am happy to report that many of the evacuees have moved to north Louisiana, where they have found shelter, welcome and new opportunities. While a census of evacuees is difficult to ascertain at present, we estimate at this writing in mid-September that somewhere between 25,000 to 50,000 persons have settled here in the northern part of the state where I live. Many additional persons and families continue to arrive. Many evacuees are Catholic.

The spirit of the Gospel truly has been manifested here since these changes have occurred. Residents of this area have in many cases opened their hearts and homes to evacuees and their families. Hotels are booked solid, and many public shelters have opened to provide shelter, food and other services. Generosity abounds among local residents who are reaching out in a lot of different ways.

The clergy and faithful of this small missionary Diocese of Shreveport truly are challenged by the size of the task before us "“ feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty and visiting the many transferred inmates in prison. The prescriptions in Matthew 25:34-40 have come even more alive here, thanks to the grace of God and this new opportunity.

Fortunately, the churches of all the various religious traditions have undertaken the mission to serve the needy among the evacuees too. There has been, in addition, good cooperation with the governmental and private sector care providers.

Of course, all of us face the realities that the evacuees' stay may stretch out for a year or more. Moreover, there may be a decline in the great number of care providers as fatigue sets in among the first wave of volunteers and donors. All of this will be accompanied by the responsibilities to continue ministry and service to the citizens of this area.

What is most needed by the Catholic efforts to serve the needs in this situation? First, we all need many prayers. Second, financial assistance is needed.

Why does the church here need financial assistance? This local church of less than 50,000 Catholics has the privilege of serving the homeless men and women religious who have had to evacuate New Orleans. We are not serving all of the religious of New Orleans, but we do have a good number. In fact the number of religious in this diocese just doubled.

We also are pressed to open additional school classroom space and obtain books and supplies for the children of evacuee families. Catholic students of New Orleans may not resume their studies there for a long time.

If the present situation is extended over a considerable period of time, more volunteers from outside will be needed so as to fill in for the local workers who will suffer fatigue or must press forward with their employment demands and family needs.

Yes, the arrival of evacuees has generated a lot of new energy for people to reach out to other people. We are blessed to have so many here from other parts of our state. They bring their gifts to this local church and area, and they expand our opportunities to share Christ and serve in his mission and ministry.

Bishop William Friend leads the Diocese of Shreveport, La.

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