Archbishop Aymond: Gulf Oil ‘Tragedy’ Has Prompted Generous Response
Parishioners across the archdiocese have donated more than $1.1 million in the last six months to help earthquake victims in Haiti and the families affected by the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. How does that make you feel, especially in light of a slow economy and the economic pressures on people still rebuilding from Katrina?
People have been extremely generous in their prayerful and financial support of our sisters and brothers in Haiti and on the Gulf Coast. We’re very indebted to Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New Orleans for being on the scene and for representing us by providing counseling and pastoral care. Second Harvest Food Bank, which is an entity of Catholic Charities, is providing food. Our pastors in the affected areas have been very supportive in offering pastoral care to those who approach them to pray or just to talk about the tension and anxiety they are experiencing. This is a very challenging time. In many cases, the people affected by the oil spill are the same people who after Katrina said they wanted to be part of the rebuilding. They were determined to persevere and not lose hope. Now, five years later, they have to face this oil tragedy – and from now on I’m not calling it the oil “spill” or the oil “leak” because it truly is a tragedy. We have to respond to these people because they are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Their way of life and their future definitely have been impaired, and we don’t know how long this will go on.
How has the situation changed as we enter the third month of the disaster?
I was in Florida last week for a bishops’ meeting, and it seems as though in many parts of the country people have grown accustomed to seeing it on TV and they’ve lost a sense of how tragic it is. For our people locally it becomes more tragic and creates more questions every day. Those kinds of questions and anxieties become faith questions: Where is God in the midst of this? What will God do for us? None of us have the exact answers, but we are a people of hope and perseverance. We believe that in our suffering – in our dying to self – God always provides for us and suffers with us. Somewhere in all of this there has to be a silver lining, and it’s God’s way to lead us toward that even if we do not see it at the present time. This is a time of more questions than answers, and it calls us to faith.
BP gave the archdiocese $1 million to provide financial assistance, food and counseling to oil spill victims. Is that fund nearly exhausted and have you had additional discussions with BP?
Yes, that money is being used up. We realize that if this tragedy continues, we will need more money, and we have gone to BP to ask for further financial assistance to help the people of God.
I understand you will be celebrating some special Masses in the next few weeks.
Beginning this Sunday, I will begin visiting each parish on the Gulf Coast to celebrate Mass with the people and to pray for their protection and for stability in their lives. Also, we’re going to have a special Mass on July 11 at 2 p.m. at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Prompt Succor on State Street, inviting anyone from the archdiocese to prayer specifically for those who have been affected by the oil tragedy but also for our protection during the hurricane season. Then, on Aug. 29, the fifth anniversary of Katrina, I have asked all the parishes of the archdiocese to celebrate the Mass of Our Lady of Prompt Succor, thanking her for her guidance, hope and perseverance during this time of rebuilding and also asking for a quick end to the oil tragedy and for her continued protection as we get into the height of the hurricane season.
Do you have other events planned for Aug. 29?
Yes, we will host an interfaith prayer service at St. Louis Cathedral at 1:30 p.m. And then after that, I will host an open house at my residence, which is adjacent to Notre Dame Seminary on South Carrollton Avenue. Everyone is invited to come for the open house, which will also serve as a location for two important book signings. Archbishop Hannan will be there to sign copies of his autobiography, and Father Bill Maestri will sign copies of the book he did on the archdiocese’s response to Hurricane Katrina. I wanted to have the open house at my residence because it is the house of the archdiocese. I have the privilege to live there at the present time, but it is a place of gathering for the people of God in the archdiocese. We also felt it was a practical place to gather because we have ample parking and a lovely backyard, where we can gather together and people can come and go as they wish.