Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, vice president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, asked bishops across the country to consider a special collection to assist victims of Hurricane Harvey along the Gulf Coast.
He suggested in an August 28 letter to bishops that the collection be taken during Masses the weekend of September 2-3 or September 9-10.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to the families that have lost loved ones and to all who have lost homes and businesses along with their sense of normalcy. We also stand with our brother bishops in the region who have the difficult task of providing pastoral care in these most trying times while managing their own losses. Our prayerful and financial support is urgently needed,” he wrote.
Funds collected will support emergency aid and recovery efforts under Catholic Charities USA and pastoral and rebuilding support to the affected dioceses through the bishops’ conference.
The storm has dumped as much as four feet of rain on some areas of Texas and Louisiana, weather observers have reported. Thousands of people have evacuated flooded homes and communities and remained in emergency shelters across the region.
Among the most affected areas are the Diocese of Victoria and the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, which Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, USCCB president, oversees. Numerous parishes and schools have been flooded while others have offered facilities as shelter. Parishes have also helped distribute food and emergency supplies to storm victims.
“Together with Cardinal DiNardo and the bishops throughout the affected region, I express deep gratitude to the first responders and countless volunteers who are assisting the Gulf Coast region in countless ways,” Archbishop Gomez wrote.
Earlier this week 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 south-east Houston, Fr 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 neighbours.
Sitting atop his red kayak, Fr 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,” Fr 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 neighbours.
“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,” Fr Bergeron said. Texas liquour 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 evangelisers who came by boat.
“I guess this is how the Americas were evangelised as well, with a canoe, and this is a kayak,” Fr 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 August 27 walking three miles in floodwater to morning Mass at Ss Simon and Jude Catholic Church in The Woodlands even though a dispensation had been given.
“I made it in time for the 9.30am Mass,” he said. “It’s normally a crowded Mass, but there were about 100 people.”
In his homily, Fr 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 centre 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 August 27, parish staff said.
Sacred Heart Church in Rosenberg, 35 miles southwest of Houston, also served as a Red Cross shelter.