Editor's Note: The following article was published in the online edition of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Thanks to St. Patrick parishioner Gaeton Conte and Teresa Ragusa from Her Choice Birmingham for passing on this inspiring story.
The New Orleans diocese may be half under water today, but its Archbishop is personally ministering to his flock-in-exile nonetheless. Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes has set up an emergency field office in a parish in Baton Rouge and is spending his time comforting the afflicted. He is visiting the many refugee shelters set up after Hurricane Katrina devastated his diocese of New Orleans, where 36% of the population is Catholic.
The Archbishop fled the storm, along with over a million others, with only two changes of clothes in his bag. Since then, Hughes has been hitching rides to the shelters with Louisiana state troopers and other aid workers to hear confessions, give comfort and spiritual aid to those who have lost family members and homes.
"I am also a refugee," Hughes said to one group. "It's not easy to be so drastically dislocated without any early hope of being able to return." Hughes is ministering to evacuees gathered at the Baton Rouge Centroplex and three Baton Rouge Catholic churches.
Archbishop Hughes is known as a strong voice in defense of the unborn, the sanctity of marriage and the rights of Christians to participate in the public square. In 2004, Archbishop Hughes gave a statement defending the right of Christians to participate in public life especially on issues like abortion and marriage. In 2002, Archbishop Hughes attempted to stop a representative of the militantly pro-abortion group, National Organization of Women, from speaking! at Loyola University Law School in his diocese. This year, the Archbishop again clashed with Loyola Law when he declined to attend the commencement because the university was to grant an honorary degree to pro-abortion politicians.
Yesterday, Archbishop Hughes joined Bishop Robert W. Muench of Baton Rouge and Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco calling for a day of prayer for the victims throughout the Gulf area. "God has brought us to our knees in the face of disaster," Hughes said. "We are so overwhelmed, we do not really know how to respond. Powerlessness leads us to prayer. And we know when we turn to God, God offers us his grace."
Hughes spoke to the Times Picayune, which has switched to an entirely online edition after Katrina destroyed its New Orleans offices. He said, "Our first concern is for the people - the people who have died, the people who are left behind, the people who rescued and who were rescued."