J/P Alert is the newsletter of the Justice and Peace office of CMSM. It is intended to inform and stimulate discussion and involvement among the members. Its contents do not necessarily represent official positions of CMSM.
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) entered the "Resolution Against Torture" into the Congressional Record during final consideration of "The Military Commissions Act of 2006" (Sept. 29, 2006, page H7948). Here is the relevant text:
[Read the resolution at:
Fr. Perry Henry, C.M.
For many of us who made the Louisiana and Mississippi gulf coast our home, Katrina marked an ending and a beginning. On Monday morning, August 29, 2005, the City of New Orleans and the gulf coast of Mississippi and western Louisiana were brought to their knees as a result of the devastating winds of Hurricane Katrina. Katrina literally sent our world into a tailspin.
Immediately following Katrina's winds New Orleans was dealt a second devastating blow as the surrounding floodwalls and levees, designed to protect the city, failed. Nearly 80% of the city was engulfed by flood waters ranging in depths up to 20 feet. This means that nearly 80% of all the homes, schools, businesses and churches—the whole infrastructure of city life—has been adversely affected by the destructive storm. We lost homes, we lost cars, we lost neighbors, we lost lives. Much of our way of life came to an end.
Last month we commemorated the one-year anniversary of that event. Special events marking the anniversary began a week in advance. New Orleans was flooded once again, this time with news media from around the world, and local, state and national politicians wishing to be a part of the story.
On Tuesday night, August 29, I gathered with church and civic leader from throughout the New Orleans metropolitan region at St. Louis Cathedral for an Interfaith Service to remember the events of a year ago and to commit ourselves to rebuilding a better New Orleans than existed before Katrina. Gathered in the Cathedral were clergy and laity representing various Orthodox, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and Asian faith traditions united in prayer for the recovery of our community.
In one of the prayers, led by Very Rev. Susan Gaumer, Rector of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in New Orleans, we were invited to remember on this anniversary:
It is important for us to remember. It is important to remember the good and the bad. Remembering allows us an opportunity to reflect more deeply on the impact the event has had on our lives, to discover the inner resources that made our survival possible and gives us hope for the future. Remembering also helps us to appreciate our blessings.
Following Katrina and the devastating flood in its aftermath came the return of the exiles. We returned to a city in ruins. We rolled up our sleeves and began the arduous task of repairing and rebuilding—repairing and rebuilding our city, our neighborhoods, our businesses, our churches, our families and our lives. Since Katrina we have developed a new ritual in our churches. Now every Sunday when we recognize a first time returnee to the Church since Katrina we listen attentively to each other's Katrina Story. Our story of evacuation...of exile...of returning home. Some stories still bring tears to our eyes. A few months ago I received a letter in the mail from an elderly wheel-chair-bound parishioner name Emelda. Her care-giver is her sister Juanita. Both are in their 80's. She wrote:
A year after Katrina less than half of our pre-Katrina membership has returned to St. Joseph. Our weekday and weekend liturgical schedule has resumed even though we still have major repair work to be done at the church—replace the A/C system that was flooded, replace the roof, repair art-glass windows in the church. Less than a quarter of the businesses and residential population surrounding the church has returned.
As we continue to serve the spiritual and material needs of our returning parishioners and neighbors and as we go about making the needed repairs to the church physical plant, we are equally busy making plans to assist returning evacuees resettle in our neighborhood. The magnitude of the destruction of Katrina and the flood has forced us to think and act in ways in which we weren't inclined to do before. Katrina has impressed upon us the need to work more collectively and collaboratively. This new way of thinking and acting, I believe, offers us an opportunity to view Katrina from a different vantage point: the vantage point of an opportunity to make a better New Orleans. We have an opportunity not just to rebuild our city, but also to make it a better place to live. Before Katrina our city was burdened and crippled with high levels of poverty, unemployment and crime. We now have a unique opportunity to rebuild our city better than it was before Katrina.
Two collaborative projects, in particular, that we are engaged in at St. Joseph Church that I believe offer us a rich opportunity to build a better New Orleans are: (1) establishing a recovery center at St. Joseph Church; and (2) participating in the Providence Community Housing initiative [see next story].
The Rebuild Center
St. Joseph Church is partnering with other Catholic and faith-based organizations in the city to establish a multi-service recovery center on the grounds of the church. The purpose of the center is to provide a setting, resources and opportunities for collaboration among Catholic and other faith-based organization assisting in the revitalization, repopulation and rebuilding of our neighborhood. The center will have as it partners the Fr. Harry Tompson, S.J. Center a ministry of Immaculate Conception Church (the Jesuit Church) in New Orleans; Lantern Light Ministries, a service ministry of the Presentation Sister of the Blessed Virgin Mary; the Daughters of Charity Health Services; the Hispanic Apostolate of the Archdiocese of New Orleans; and other agencies.
It will be composed of a network of modular buildings located on the parking lot of St. Joseph Church. It will serve people made homeless by Hurricane Katrina, the chronically homeless and immigrant workers from Mexico and Central America who are pouring into the city seeking work in rebuilding the city. The center will serve hot meals daily. It will have a food pantry and will offer laundry and shower facilities, medical services, housing and employment services, referrals for other social services and legal aid through the Loyola University Law Clinic. Grants exceeding $250,000 of the estimated $350,000 needed to build the center have already been received. The center will be called the Rebuild Center at St. Joseph Church. We expect the center to be fully up and running by mid-January 2007.
Collaboration has not just been a local phenomenon. Through programs like the Catholic Extension Society's Parish Partnership Program hundreds of generous parishes across the country have stepped forward to help their fellow Catholics along the Gulf Coast. Some rolled up their sleeves and went to work-on-site at their partner parish. Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New Orleans initiated a program called Operation Helping Hands. This program has literally mobilized an army of volunteer corps to help the neediest home owners within the Archdiocese to clean up their neighborhoods and restore their homes in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The volunteers remove damaged appliances, furniture and other household goods from flood homes. They also remove damaged walls, ceiling, flooring and wiring. Once everything is remote, they spray a sanitizing solution to kill bacteria making home ready for re-habitation. To date they have helped repair thousands of home. For more information about Operation Helping Hands visit their website at: www.ccano.org/programs.htm.
A year has come and gone since Katrina first made landfall on the Gulf Coast. I recently escorted a group of leaders of religious communities on a tour of the devastation. They were awed by the extent of the devastation and how a year later so much of the city remained in ruins. I, on the other hand, was pleasantly surprised at how much progress was being made.
Gone were the hundreds-of-thousands of flooded cars that littered the city. Gone also were the mountains of debris in front of the homes that had been flooded. Many homeowners were in the process of cleaning and repairing their property. And most hope-filled—when I first returned to New Orleans in October of 2005 the entire landscape was barren: the grass, the leaves on the trees and bushes were all brown; a grey film covered everything; there were no sounds of nature, birds, crickets. On this latest return the grass and leaves were green—albeit overgrown— the sounds of nature and street traffic and human voices had returned. A new beginning...
[Photographs of 1-year-post-Katrina New Orleans and Bay St. Louis, MS, can be found at www.cmsm.org/CMSM_Alert/Oct06/KatrinaPhotoAlbum/index.htm.]
Providence Community Housing, the Catholic post-Katrina initiative, was formed when a number of local church and community based organizations came together to see how they might use their joint talents, experience and resources to help address the critical need for affordable and supportive housing in southern Louisiana. Since 1727, we have served the poorest and most vulnerable of the Greater New Orleans area. With this legacy in mind, we committed ourselves to doing all that we could to allow people of all races, cultures, faiths and backgrounds to return to their homes, churches and communities.
Providence, an independent 501(c)(3) organization, was formed with the mission of fostering healthy, diverse and vibrant communities by developing, operating and advocating for affordable, mixed-income housing, supportive services and employment opportunities for individuals, families, seniors and people with special needs.
Over the next five years, our goal is to restore, rebuild and/or develop 7,000 units of housing – both single-family homes and apartments.
Sponsoring members of Providence are the largest private providers of affordable housing (Christopher Homes) and community services (Catholic Charities) in the Gulf region. Our neighborhood based sponsors (St. Peter Claver/UJAMAA, St. Joseph's/Tulane-Canal CDC, and Reconcile New Orleans) are well respected for their community development and housing efforts over the years. Our growing list of local affiliate members include: Mary Queen of Vietnam CDC, the Hispanic Apostolate, and the Holy Family Sisters.
Enterprise, the nationally respected housing and community development pioneer, has a partnership agreement with Providence to provide short and long term planning expertise, and a vast array of technical support and financial resources.
Providence and Enterprise have recently been selected by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) to help plan the redevelopment of the 900 unit Lafitte public housing development in historic Treme. We look forward to working with the former residents/families and local neighborhood groups to develop a shared vision for a stronger and healthier community for all. Initial research supports the possibility of a new Lafitte with roughly 600 homes and apartments on the existing site and up to 900 additional homes and apartments in the surrounding Tulane/Gravier and Treme neighborhoods.
Providence and Enterprise working together with local residents/groups in planning the revitalization of the neighborhoods will be assisted by the AFL-CIO Investment Trust, Chase, Fannie Mae, NeighborWorks America, New Orleans Habitat for Humanity, M.I.T. and Tulane University. The AFL-CIO Building Trades have also committed to launching a comprehensive workforce development training and apprenticeship program.
Fannie Mae and Chase recently provided recoverable grants for our modular housing pilot in the Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans. We hope to offer these homes to the hundreds of displaced residents. Chase has also established a $5,000,000 home mortgage revolving line of credit for those homeowners we will be assisting.
The Order of Malta has raised over a million and a half dollars to aid in the gutting and repair of homes owned by the elderly and disabled. In conjunction with Operation Helping Hands (a Catholic Charities initiative) and with assistance from five thousand volunteers, we have cleaned out over 800 homes. The Order of Malta along with Rebuilding Together has recently begun repairing dozens of these homes in the Treme and Gentilly neighborhoods.
Providence, with assistance from Enterprise, was recently awarded by the Louisiana Housing Finance Agency low income housing tax credits valued at over $31,000,000. These credits/funds will allow us to repair and re-open 490 apartments for seniors. Six additional applications, valued at $47,000,000 are being submitted in order that we may soon welcome additional 550 seniors home.
The Archdiocese of New Orleans plans to sell two historical churches and two schools in the 9th ward along with an unimproved parcel on the Northshore to Providence for development into 349 low-income apartments for seniors.
Late this fall, four former HUD 202 properties in the 9th ward and St. Bernard are slated for the repair and restoration of over 300 apartments for critically needed "worker housing."
Providence is assisting a group of non-profits in Covington to plan the development of 60 affordable homes and 40 apartments for the poor and working class on the Northshore.
In January, we plan to begin rebuilding a severely damaged apartment complex (200 units) in Marrero.
Several additional local properties are under serious consideration for conversion into single family homes, mixed income apartments and supportive housing for special needs populations.
Providence plans to assist its sponsoring members and other non-profit groups by:
Since the aftermath of the hurricane, we have advocated at the State and Federal levels for affordable and special needs housing. We helped form the Louisiana Affordable Housing Alliance. We addressed the Louisiana Recovery Authority, the United States Senate Finance committee and the House Financial Services committee. We have been a voice for the voiceless at the highest levels of government including the Secretary of HUD and the President of the United States.
With over 200,000 homes and apartments severely damaged, and 75% of people surveyed wishing to return, we are anxious to move beyond planning and advocating to rebuilding our community.
Providence, along with our local, regional and national partners, is in a unique position to begin today rebuilding our State with vibrant, healthy and diverse communities of choice. With God's grace, we will soon welcome home thousands of victims of Katrina, helping them to begin new lives filled with dignity and hope.
Your comments and suggestions are always welcome.
T. Michael McNulty, SJ, editor
8808 Cameron St., Silver Spring, MD 20910