Bishops Gauging Hurricane's Toll

Prelates in Louisiana and Mississippi Expecting the Worst

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WASHINGTON, D.C., SEPT. 1, 2005 ( Some bishops in Louisiana and Mississippi expect that their dioceses will face unparalleled devastation from Hurricane Katrina, reports indicate.

The reports came in to the offices of the U.S. bishops’ conference shortly after the episcopate’s officials e-mailed and faxed the bishops of Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama on Tuesday.

The episcopate advised the Southern bishops that conference president Bishop William Skylstad had called for a national collection and prayers in churches for those afflicted by the disastrous hurricane.

Some bishops in the affected regions could not be reached.

«All the bishops of the United States are concerned for the number of church personnel who are isolated, working under great adversity, and perhaps not even aware that the whole rest of the country is praying for them,» said Bishop Skylstad. «We don’t even know if all of them are safe.»

Bishops reporting to the USCCB indicated how much dioceses had been affected.

In the state of Louisiana, the dioceses of Shreveport and Baton Rouge, which are just far enough north to have been spared from the storm, are working to accommodate those displaced from the stricken areas, reported Bishop William Friend of Shreveport.

Churches destroyed

Archbishop Alfred Hughes of New Orleans, who had to evacuate to Baton Rouge, reported from a parish there. He said that, assisted by Louisiana State Police, he has been going to visit shelters in the Baton Rouge area, which has taken in 100,000 people from the New Orleans area.

Bishop Thomas Rodi of Biloxi, Mississippi, reached the bishops’ conference by cell phone and said 20% of the diocese’s churches and a third of its schools have been destroyed.

Every rectory, school, convent and diocesan building sustained moderate to severe damage, the prelate said. He was working from his office where there was no water or electricity.

Bishop Terry Steib of Memphis, Tennessee, was stranded in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, his office said. He was safe, but his car was destroyed.

The U.S. bishops’ conference said it is in constant contact with Catholic Charities USA, located in Alexandria, Virginia, which in turn is working with the federal Department of Homeland Security and the local diocesan Catholic Charities organizations to move relief supplies and equipment into the areas which are accessible at this time.

Least able to cope

Bishop Skylstad praised the response of Catholics to this tragedy and encouraged them to continue their prayers and donations for the people in these dioceses.

«Most of the dioceses are Home Mission dioceses, which struggle to survive under the best of conditions,» he said. «They are the least able to cope with this adversity.»

Home Mission dioceses are those that cannot operate solely on local donations and rely on the support of other dioceses to fund even basic pastoral life.

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