In an effort to assist those in the Baton Rouge area who are suffering from flooding caused by torrential rain last month, Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz has requested that the following message by Robert Tasman be posted on the Catholic Anchor. Tasman is executive director of Louisiana Catholic Conference. He sent this message to dioceses across the United States, seeking assistance:
First, let me express my thanks to those who have reached out to check on my family here in Baton Rouge. By the grace of God, we are dry and did not experience any threat of water. That is the case for my extended family as well, which again is truly amazing. Where we all happen to live was one of the very small areas that did not see water levels rising.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for many of our friends and the broader community. It has been a busy week with varied meetings on both the state and diocesan level as we assess the needs, already knowing the damage. In many cases, individuals have lost literally everything and very well may not have had flood insurance due to the fact that a large part of the areas inundated with water had never flooded before. The reference point for flood zones went back to the last flood in ‘83 which did not nearly do as much damage as this one. We have been helping a family with two boys of their own who lost their home, their business, and each of their respective grand parents have lost their home as well. At one point, Katie had eight little boys in our house as she played “mother hen” so that families could begin to return to their homes to initiate any clean up and assessment that needed to occur.
We have assessed things internally within the diocese of Baton Rouge and as it stand now it appears that two of our Catholic schools are a complete loss which does not account for a brand new Cristo Rey high school that just opened up a week and half ago with its inaugural class. We are finding openings in other under-enrolled Catholic schools for these students to attend, and Cristo Rey has managed to secure a temporary site to continue in its education of students. Seven Church parishes are essentially a complete loss.
I had the opportunity earlier in the week to help a friend in a town called Central, which is only twenty minutes from our home, and the sight was nothing short of devastation. Impassable roads, trailers moved literally fifty yards from where they were once located, eight feet of water in other spots, and roads lined with both debris as well as cars and trucks of individuals waiting to get back into their community.
We are ensuring that there is a presence of both local Catholic Charities personnel as well as religious in the four state shelters that currently exist. We have also been asked by our governor, a Catholic himself, to attempt to be present during the coming weekend so that those who are Catholic have an opportunity to receive the Eucharist.
As many of you know, I am not a native of Louisiana, but it certainly is home! What I have witnessed already in terms of the outpouring of support and generosity has been nothing short of inspirational among our people. Even among those who have lost everything, there is still an impulse to go into communities that are now accessible and help one’s neighbor. There are of course many telling images that have already been circulated widely, but I do hope that you had the opportunity to see the one where one of our interstates was lined with trucks hauling boats. It seems like many in LA have both a truck and a boat. I have neither. The point is that these were generous and charitable individuals who felt called to aid in the rescue of so many who were stranded due to, in many cases, the unexpected and rapid rise of rivers, canals, creeks, bayous, etc. A caption for this picture was “The Cajun Navy!” So fitting…
I would simply ask for your prayers at this time. Baton Rouge has had one hell of a summer! It began in the heat of the summer with the shooting of Alton Sterling, leading to protests and national media attention. This tragically led to a Missouri gunman killing three law enforcement officials and our community in need of deep healing. As we began to catch our breath from these events, which the faith community played a large role in, we then took on water. I have wondered what my boys will remember of the summer of ‘16. I hope it is something innocuous but telling for our experience – the sound of helicopters. The protests and senseless killing took place less than a half of mile from our home. For weeks all we heard and saw from our backyard was helicopters. Communities less than three miles from our home were underwater and again we saw helicopters, this time not just police but also National Guard and coast guard. Most recently, the boys’ mouths dropped in awe as they spotted a Blackhawk which was transporting hospital workers from one hospital here in town to an inaccessible sister hospital in a parish where all within (homes, businesses, etc.) suffered a total loss to the extent of 75-80% of the parish.
We are a community of strong Christian faith. So again, thank you for your thoughts and please continue to pray. The recovery will be a very long and arduous one, but we will rise!
For more information on how to assist see the following links below: