Bishop Curtis Guillory has traveled throughout his Beaumont, Texas, diocese visiting those impacted by Hurricane Harvey and meeting with first responders and volunteers. He has stopped by many parishes and schools.
He reports widespread damage to structures and devastation among residents, particularly those in poor areas, who have fewer access to resources. He said he is inspired by the faith of people who have lost everything.
Of the 50 parishes and mission churches in the Beaumont diocese, 18 have been damaged and four are unable to be used.
Three Catholic schools have also been damaged and were temporarily closed, but have since reopened.
The flooding was particularly devastating at St. Catherine of Siena Catholic School, the only Catholic school in the southern part of the Beaumont diocese and a beacon of hope. Located in one of the hardest hit areas, the school was closed for two weeks with flooding, but with help from volunteers, it is now back in operation. The school still needs significant repairs.
The school is wonderfully diverse with 42 percent Latino, 25 percent Asian, 23 percent African American and 10 percent Caucasian students, with the majority living in economically disadvantaged homes. In recent years, Catholic Extension helped the school successfully expand its enrollment.
The Holy Family Retreat Center in Beaumont was severely damaged. Upon advice from experts, who said the retreat house did not need flood insurance, it had none.
The hurricane leaves a range of challenges. People are without adequate food and shelter. For people who have lost homes, there is no place to accommodate them; all hotels are full. Until normal commerce and business activity is back in the area, many jobs are gone, so unemployment is up dramatically. Income for the diocese has decreased.
The poor are particularly vulnerable because many are in homes that are structurally weak. They often do not have savings accounts to tide them over in times of trouble. Employment disruptions can mean financial disaster.
Bishop Guillory noted that during a disaster such as a hurricane, everyone faces the same trauma. But afterwards, in the phase of clean-up and restoring one’s life, the poor are hit harder because they do not have as many safety nets. The challenges of getting back up are that much greater.
Currently many organizations have stepped in to offer disaster relief. Catholic Charities and other organizations are providing basic needs, such as clothing, non-perishable foods, cleaning supplies, diapers and other home products. This primary care work will likely continue for months.
Catholic Extension will be part of the rebuilding effort. True to our mission, we will provide funds to repair and renovate damaged churches and schools. We will be there to help faith communities get back on their feet. The Church has such a central place in times of crisis. Faith communities play a vital role in re-energizing and strengthening the spirit to do the hard work of reconstruction.
Catholic Extension has been supporting the Catholics of Beaumont since the diocese’s founding in 1966. Over that time period, we have helped build 21 churches, and today our efforts in the Beaumont diocese focus on strengthening the church’s presence among the poor, the immigrant and marginalized.
Please join us in praying for all the communities suffering from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
As Bishop Guillory said, “In critical moments, we need the sustained power of the Lord.”