Six Months After Katrina

Letter From New Orleans

Sitting at Mass in St. Theresa’s Church on Camp Street in New Orleans some six months after Hurricane Katrina, my eyes rise naturally above the altar.  There, I see a large, ugly panel of various sheets of plywood and two-by-fours filling the vast hole where the fine old stained glass depicting an incident in the saint’s life once was, before it was blown out during the storm.  And, as this is a small, poor parish, odds are, it will never be replaced.  The one panel that remains includes the state seal of Louisiana, a round emblem enclosing the image of a pelican feeding her young.  This view reminds me of the condition of this city and surrounding parishes hit by Katrina; many areas are still an ugly reality of wrecked houses and uncollected trash, while people cling to the illusion of an unfathomable belief in the powers of the god of the State—not the one in Baton Rouge, of course, but that in the District of Columbia—to cure all ills.

A month or so back, we went downtown to St. Louis Cathedral and heard Archbishop Hughes warn that people should be very careful how they inject race into the dialogue about rebuilding the city.  One man in attendance that day—our mayor, Ray Nagin—was apparently not paying much attention, as the very next day, Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, was the occasion of his famed pronouncement, “and I don’t care what people are saying Uptown...

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