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U.S. bishops pray for ‘safety, care’ of all hit by two massive hurricanes

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. bishops’ Executive Committee Sept. 12 prayed for “the safety and care of human life” after two catastrophic hurricanes and urged Catholics around the country to offer their prayers as well as financial support and volunteer help as they can.

Residents look at a collapsed house Sept. 12 after Hurricane Irma passed the area in Vilano Beach, Florida. (CNS photo/Chris Wattie, Reuters)

“The massive scale of the dual disasters and the effect it has on communities, families and individuals cannot be fully comprehended or adequately addressed in the immediate aftermath of the storms,” the statement said, noting that “lives and livelihoods” were “still at risk in Texas, Florida, the Virgin Islands and throughout the Caribbean.”

Beginning Sept. 6, Hurricane Irma left hardly any place in its path untouched. The strength and size of the massive storm, with 120-plus-mph winds stretching 70 miles from its core, leveled entire islands in the eastern Caribbean, brought unprecedented flooding on Cuba’s north coast, devastated the Florida Keys, snapped construction cranes in downtown Miami and targeted cities along Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Irma dwindled to a tropical storm as it neared the Florida-Georgia line early Sept. 11 and was forecast to die out over southern states later in the week. Officials in Florida and across the Caribbean, meanwhile, started to dig out and evaluate the full scope of the disaster Irma left behind. The death toll stood at more than 30 in the Caribbean and at 12 in the United States, as of Sept. 12.

More than a week earlier, Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc on Houston and southern Texas Aug. 25-30. In a four-day period, many areas received more than 40 inches of rain. Flooding inundated hundreds of thousands of homes, displaced more than 30,000 people, and prompted more than 17,000 rescues. The death toll from that storm stood at 70.

“At this time of initial recovery, we mourn the loss of life, homes and other property, and the harm to the natural environment, and we pray for all those affected and in need of assistance” in the wake of the two massive hurricanes, said the Executive Committee, which includes the officers of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“We also pray for the safety of, and in thanksgiving for, the first responders who are risking their lives at this very moment in care for their neighbors, especially those who are elderly, sick, homeless, or otherwise already in need of special assistance,” the statement said.

The Executive Committee’s statement followed by three days a statement from the president of the USCCB, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, whose diocese was hit by flooding from Hurricane Harvey.

He called for prayers for the victims of Harvey and for those affected by Irma.

“At a time like this, when our endurance is tested, we implore God to direct us to yet unknown reserves of strength and human compassion for those suffering so deeply. May our manifestations of love and solidarity be lasting signs in the midst of this crisis,” he said Sept. 9.

The Executive Committee said it shared “Pope Francis’ trust that the Catholic faithful here in the United States will respond to the needs presented by these disasters with a ‘ast outpouring of solidarity and mutual aid in the best traditions of the nation.’”

“We encourage the faithful to respond generously with prayers, financial support, and for those who have the opportunity, the volunteering of time and talents in support of those in need,” it said.

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It’s no ordinary week at flood-damaged Houston church

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HOUSTON — The 22nd week in ordinary time of the church’s liturgical year has been no ordinary time for Father Martin Eke, a Missionary of St. Paul, or his parish, St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Houston.

“Ever since the rain started … my life has never been busier,” Father Eke said Sept. 6. Read more »

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Help storm victims: Bishop Malooly calls for generosity in special collection

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Bishop Malooly has asked all Catholic parishes in Delaware and Maryland’s Eastern Shore to take up a special collection this weekend, Sept. 2 and 3, to aid victims of Hurricane Harvey.

A worker helps an elderly woman from a rescue boat as it evacuates people from the floodwaters of Tropical Storm Harvey Aug. 30 in Houston. (CNS/Carlo Allegri, Reuters)

If parishes are not able to take up the collection this weekend, the bishop has asked that the collection take place the following weekend, Sept. 9 and 10.

All donations will go to assist Catholic Charities USA and the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston in their efforts to help survivors of this historic storm and the resulting flooding.

“The people of the Diocese [of Wilmington] are exceedingly generous,” said Bishop Malooly. “The Catholic community of Delaware and Maryland’s Eastern Shore donated funds totaling more than $1 million to help those in need in the wake of 2004’s Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. We expect the same level of outpouring for our brothers and sisters who are now suffering in Texas.”

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ president, has called for prayers and solidarity with those impacted by the hurricane and tropical storm.

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Texas parishioners shocked by devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey

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Catholic News Service

HOUSTON — With floodwater as high as 20 feet from swelling bayous and waterways, thousands of homes in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston flooded as Tropical Storm Harvey continued to batter southeast Texas Aug. 28.

A man carries his belongings through flood waters in Houston, Texas, Aug. 28. (CNS photo/Nick Oxford, Reuters)

Bishops from dioceses along the mid-Texas Gulf Coast, including Victoria and Galveston-Houston, granted dispensations from regular Mass Sunday obligations Aug. 27.

The storm, which made landfall a day earlier as a Category 4 hurricane, was downgraded to a tropical storm and claimed at least four lives. The record-breaking rainfall, as much as 28 inches over 24 hours in four counties in the archdiocese, was “unprecedented” and “catastrophic,” according to the National Hurricane Center. The region typically sees about 49 inches of rain in a year.

In southeast Houston, Father David Bergeron, a member of the Companions of the Cross order, spent Saturday night in his truck on a highway because of rising floodwater. The next morning, he kayaked the flooded streets to try to find wine to celebrate Sunday Mass for nearby stranded neighbors.

Sitting atop his red kayak, Father Bergeron told a local TV reporter on a live broadcast that he was trying to return home to celebrate Mass. He had visited Galveston for a kayak trip the previous day.

“I tried to go back home for Mass and … I didn’t make it,” Father Bergeron said.

The priest used his kayak to visit a nearby convenience store for supplies as well as wine to celebrate Mass for nearby stranded neighbors.

“I even tried to buy wine right now to say Mass with some of the people who are stranded here, but that didn’t happen because it’s not noon yet,” Father Bergeron said. Texas liquor laws prevent alcohol sales on Sundays before noon. “It’s not that I usually buy alcohol that early in the morning, but I had wanted to say Mass with the few people who are stranded.”

He said he was praying for everyone in need, reflecting on America’s first evangelizers who came by boat.

“I guess this is how the Americas were evangelized as well, with a canoe, and this is a kayak,” Father Bergeron said. “I hope that can bring a smile to a few people.”

“The Lord is alive and the Lord is always with us as well, so I really pray for the protection of all the people. …There are a few psalms that implore for the grace of God and the washing and the rain, but now we have enough rain.”

Thirty miles north of Houston, 29-year-old Eric Robinson spent the morning of Aug. 27 walking three miles in floodwater to morning Mass at Sts. Simon and Jude Catholic Church in The Woodlands even though a dispensation had been given.

“I made it in time for the 9:30 a.m. Mass,” he said. “It’s normally a crowded Mass, but there were about 100 people.”

In his homily, Father Pat Garrett, pastor, encouraged people to pray for flood victims and first responders. After Mass, Robinson trekked back to his apartment, wading through waist-deep water.

The situation was not the first time the parish has seen floodwater come close to church grounds. In April 2016, the church’s center served as a Red Cross shelter. Activated again as Harvey pounded the state, at least 22 people took shelter at the church by the evening of Aug. 27, parish staff said.

Sacred Heart Church in Rosenberg, 35 miles southwest of Houston, also served as a Red Cross shelter.

Elsewhere, Danielle Noonan walked through her Sienna Plantation neighborhood southwest of Houston Aug. 27, observing the damage caused by a tornado that ripped through area the previous evening. “I feel like I’m still in shock,” she said.

No sooner than her husband Chris told her to get into the closet where her two sons already were hiding, the tornado touched down a quarter-mile away, damaging at least 50 houses, shredding roofs and windows, snapping hallowed oak trees “like toothpicks” and flipping fences.

The next day, the community tried to recover quickly, but strong rains hampered efforts. Not until a trip to the grocery store for more supplies did Noonan see how shaken by the tornado her two children were.

One of them “was really scared,” she said. “It was hard for him to see his friends’ homes just destroyed. He didn’t want to leave the safety of his home.”

Noonan saw it as a good teaching moment about how to live a life of true prayer and love in the community. In an effort to rally the local churches in prayer, Noonan joined her parish, St. Angela Merici in nearby Missouri City, in hosting the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and praise and worship session on Facebook.

Noonan and her family evacuated to central Texas Aug. 28 under orders of local officials because of rising waters in the Brazos River.

Meanwhile, a social media post about storm damage caused Ashley Ben-David’s jaw to drop.

Scrolling through Twitter, the Houston St. Francis de Sales Catholic School fourth grade teacher saw images of hurricane-ravaged Rockport. The seaside city 30 miles northwest of Corpus Christi was among the first to see major damage from the storm. A photo showed a storied home in the Ben-David family decimated by Harvey; the two-story structure painted in friendly yellow and white was cut in half by winds that topped 130 miles per hour.

At first she denied what she saw in disbelief. “The stairs aren’t in the right spot,” she thought. However, after sending the picture to her two siblings, they confirmed the worst: It was the family home, only Harvey had moved the stairs and trees.

“We’ve had that house in our family for so long,” said Ben-David in the safety of her Sugar Land, Texas, residence. The home belonged to her grandparents in the 1960s, and for the next half-century, played host to “countless summers, vacations, Christmases and Easters,” for the family.

“It’s … heartbreaking because there’s so many memories,” she said. “It was our go-to place to be by the sea.”

The Texas Catholic Conference said the bishops of the state’s 15 dioceses are coordinating relief efforts. The conference requested “people join in prayer for the coastal and inland areas being affected, and consider donating money to local dioceses and Catholic Charities.”

 Information about contributing to storm relief efforts is available at the Texas Catholic Conference website, https://txcatholic.org/harvey/. Catholic Charities USA also is accepting contributions at https://app.mobilecause.com/vf/CCUSADISASTER.

By James Ramos, a staff writer and designer for the Texas Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

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U.S. bishops say Syria peace can only come through ‘dialogue, reconciliation’

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WASHINGTON — Officials of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops April 7 urged renewed peace efforts for Syria, echoing Pope Francis’ call for “dialogue and reconciliation” as the only way to attain peace in a country rocked by an ongoing civil war.

The USS Porter, in the Mediterranean Sea, fires a Tomahawk missile April 7. The U.S. Defense Department said it was a part of missile strike against Syria. (CNS photo/Ford Williams, U.S. Navyvia Reuters)

The USS Porter, in the Mediterranean Sea, fires a Tomahawk missile April 7. The U.S. Defense Department said it was a part of missile strike against Syria. (CNS photo/Ford Williams, U.S. Navyvia Reuters)

“The long-standing position of our conference of bishops is that the Syrian people urgently need a political solution,” said a joint statement from Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, and Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace.

“We ask the United States to work tirelessly with other governments to obtain a cease-fire, initiate serious negotiations, provide impartial humanitarian assistance, and encourage efforts to build an inclusive society in Syria that protects the rights of all its citizens, including Christians and other minorities,” they said.

The U.S. launched 59 missiles from the USS Ross and USS Porter in the Mediterranean early April 7 local time. U.S. officials said they targeted Shayrat Air Base’s airstrips, hangars, control tower and ammunition areas.

The United States was criticized for carrying out the missile strikes against Syria before investigations into the origins of chemical attacks reported April 4.

But U.S. President Donald Trump said Syrian President Bashar Assad “launched a horrible chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians” and “choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children.”

“No child of God should ever suffer such horror,” he said April 6, announcing that he had ordered the strike against the air base from which he said the chemical weapons attack was launched.

“The use of internationally banned indiscriminate weapons is morally reprehensible,” said Cardinal DiNardo and Bishop Cantu, reiterating an April 5 statement that like Pope Francis, the U.S. bishops condemned the use of such weapons. “At the same time, our conference affirmed the call of Pope Francis to attain peace in Syria ‘through dialogue and reconciliation.’”

They said that again they make the pope’s call their own, that the international community “make every effort to promote clear proposals for peace in that country without further delay, a peace based on dialogue and negotiation, for the good of the entire Syrian people.”

Quoting the pope, they added: “May no effort be spared in guaranteeing humanitarian assistance to those wounded by this terrible conflict, in particular those forced to flee and the many refugees in nearby countries.”

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More Anglican parishes join church

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WASHINGTON — Anglican parishes in Philadelphia and Indianapolis were received into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church in early April, and two Anglican bishops in Canada were slated to lead their clergy and congregants into the church later in the month.

The Anglicans are joining the new U.S. Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, based in Houston, a structure for Anglicans to become Roman Catholics while retaining some of their Anglican heritage and traditions, including liturgical traditions.

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Former Episcopal bishop installed to lead new Catholic ordinariate

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Catholic News Service

HOUSTON — With the reading of a papal pronouncement and the presentation of the miter and crosier, symbols of his new pastoral office, Father Jeffrey N. Steenson received the title of “monsignor” and officially became the head of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter at an historic Mass at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston.

The Mass of Institution, celebrated Feb. 12, also officially inaugurated the first U.S. ordinariate established by the Vatican earlier this year to facilitate and shepherd communities of former Anglicans wishing to join the Catholic faith while retaining elements of their Anglican heritage and traditions.

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