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Issue Date:  September 16, 2005

From the Editor's Desk

Sense of common good revived

The aftermath of Katrina poured into our living rooms through a 24/7 news siege and continued to arrive at our breakfast tables above the fold on the front page for more than a week, sometimes, it seemed, with an intensity to match the storm itself. For all the high-profile blunders the press and electronic media have stumbled through in recent years, I thought the hurricane coverage demonstrated the power of free and independent newsgatherers. They didn’t go in as embedded reporters, their dispatches vetted by authorities. It showed. The reporting was generally outstanding.

The point is, I found it refreshing that journalists of every stripe placed themselves in harm’s way and not only reported each development in the catastrophe, but before long also began to connect the dots and draw the picture of ineptitude at every level of government, most glaringly at the federal level.

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It was the media, too, that drew attention to the fact that those who suffered most had the least and were the least able to cope with large-scale disaster. Anchors and reporters asked tough questions and, armed with their own reporting, refused to allow officials any easy way out. The media, in this case, particularly television, held up a mirror to ourselves, and many who never thought much about such matters became unsettled at what they saw. I know from informal conversations among friends and neighbors, that something deeply disturbing was conveyed in the flood of images.

Political and religious persuasions aside, people felt in a profound way that this kind of neglect of the poor in our midst was not supposed to happen in America. People were not supposed to be left abandoned. The themes began to tumble from mouths that normally never went near such subjects: the billions for defense, the billions for Iraq, tax cuts for the wealthy. And the accompanying realization: We’re stretched too thin. We can’t protect our own. Something’s out of whack.

Perhaps the tragedy along the Gulf Coast has reawakened a sense of common good that has disappeared from our political language and culture. Perhaps, for all the hellish ordeal people endured and have yet to endure, some redemption comes in a renewed sense of community, in the understanding that the divisions -- the class and racial splits -- that we’ve allowed to develop are ugly. We see them for what they are in the stark mirror image that New Orleans has become.

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Last week, I posed a suggestion from reader Mary Jaeger, who wanted to know how Catholics could expedite a parish-to-parish connection with counterparts in New Orleans. Her idea was to develop new relationships, initially through assistance, for the long haul. The first person I heard from was Fr. Thomas O’Connell, who said that before reading the item in NCR, he had written a check “for the amount collected last Sunday during the second collections to St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Thibodaux, La. Holy Family Catholic Church in Seymour, Tenn., of which I am pastor, found that we had a connection with a former parishioner who is now in Thibodaux. The parishioner in question is a veterinarian who in an e-mail to a Holy Family veterinarian asked for help with their sheltering of hurricane victims and their pets. Since then I have met the pastor on the phone and have established the fact that Holy Family will continue to aid the parish in Louisiana for as long as there is a need. Perhaps this grass-roots approach will become a model for a more structured pairing of parishes to assist victims.”

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For further ways to assist victims of Katrina, please consult the public service ad on the home page of our web site

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, September 16, 2005

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