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Issue Date:  September 9, 2005

From the Editor's Desk

'A grace-filled opportunity'

The day before we went to press, as the images from New Orleans and Mississippi began to overwhelm any attempt to understand the tragedy, I received a call from Mary Jaeger, who had both a question and an idea.

How would one go about finding someone with the authority to match up Catholic parishes around the country with those in areas hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina? She had called the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as well as Catholic Charities USA, but couldn’t get an answer. It’s understandable, since those agencies aren’t set up to do that sort of thing. Nor could I give any ready answer, but I thought the idea intriguing enough to pass it along to see what ideas you might have. I suspect achieving something will have more to do with a creative approach by ordinary parishioners than any single authority.

Jaeger has in mind the kind of relationship that some parishes have with counterparts in, say, Latin America, where there is an exchange of people as well as goods. In fact, she is not so much interested in immediate aid as she is in the long-term connection with other Catholics who could be struggling with the effects of Katrina for months or more after the initial swell of aid arrives.

The idea has much more to do with solidarity and what she calls “a great, grace-filled opportunity” to do what we should be about than with undertaking a relief effort.

Jaeger is retired but still works part time as a social worker for Catholic Charities in the Rockford, Ill., diocese. She said she is pursuing the idea because she has “a real pain in my heart” for the people whose homes have been destroyed and whose lives have been disrupted. She wants to hear from people in those places, to know what they think about their long-term needs, and she envisions the kind of parish-to-parish relationship where parishes could contribute beyond emergency needs -- perhaps people and skills that are needed in the months ahead.

E-mail your responses to me at What do you think? Can it be done? How?

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Because of the effect of Katrina, the Postal Service announced that it is not accepting mail of any kind for delivery to zip codes beginning with 369, 393, 394, 395, 396, 700 and 701. Circulation manager Jo Ann Schierhoff said NCR will extend the subscriptions of customers in those areas the number of issues missed. Subscribers, of course, can gain access to the full content of NCR on our Web site,

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The combination of the Aug. 26 cover story on the situation in Boston and this week’s cover story on the state of the question, “Who owns the church?” gives evidence, I think, of some of the forces in play that will eventually lead to structural change in the church.

All of these developments, which cause unprecedented turmoil and uncertainty, stem, of course, from the handling of the sex abuse crisis. That crisis long ago became a symptom of other, deeper ills. I think it is not too great a leap to claim that we are witnessing, through such events as the activities of the resolute faithful in Boston and the resort to bankruptcy proceedings in other dioceses, both the gradual disassembly and reconstruction of presumptions about authority, the place of the laity and the meaning of community within the Catholic fold. I don’t know where, when or how it ends, but I can’t imagine that the shape of the church will be the same when it’s over. I also believe that laity eventually will be required to take far more responsibility for the functioning of the church (current hierarchical trends notwithstanding) than ever before.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, September 9, 2005

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