Church responds as Harvey wreaks havoc in Texas

Father David Bergeron, a priest of Ottawa, Canada’s Companions of the Cross serving at the Catholic Charismatic Center in Houston, had a firsthand experience with Hurricane Harvey as it battered Texas — one that he hopes never to repeat.

The priest was driving home in his truck Saturday night, Aug. 26, when the heavy rains from Harvey, which had been reduced to a tropical storm but was still packing plenty of moisture, left him stranded with other vehicles on a roadway overpass.

“Everything was completely flooded, and the water wasn’t receding,” Father Bergeron told Our Sunday Visitor. “I had to spend the night sleeping in my truck.”

Noting that emergency vehicles were stranded as well, Father Bergeron also observed that the only rescuers who could function were those who had boats. Suddenly his kayaking hobby became a huge asset. 

“The water was moving quickly, and it was unsafe to try to walk or swim through it, but I felt safe using my kayak,” he said. He kept the red-orange flotation device in the back of his truck.

Seeing no other option, the priest, who was about 3 miles from the southeast Houston home he shares with other members of his community, decided to abandon his truck, hop in his kayak and head home. Along the way, he began to realize that he could use his kayak for more than just getting home. He could use it to help. 

One man he encountered was stranded on one side of the street and concerned because he hadn’t heard for a few hours from his son in a building on the opposite side of the street. The priest was able to help the man cross by steadying him with his kayak so that he could find out that his son was safe.

Wanting to celebrate Mass for those stranded by the flooding, Father Bergeron attempted to buy wine at a local convenience store but was refused, he said, because Texas does not allow alcohol sales at such locations before noon on Sundays. He was, however, able to buy food for his community. This was an accomplishment in itself, he said, as the convenience store where he bought the food had been nearly stripped bare.

Paddling to safety on his kayak and assisting people along the way reminded Father Bergeron of his French-Canadian ancestors back in his native Canada. “This is how North America was once evangelized, using a canoe,” he said. 

It ended up that Father Bergeron was lucky. The flood waters surrounding his truck receded fairly quickly, and he was able to retrieve his truck. 

Though no longer aboard his kayak, he was able to continue his one-man rescue operation, assisting a brother priest from his community, who uses an oxygen machine. The elderly man had been concerned that the power would go out in his home and that he’d lose electricity for his machine, so he checked into a local hotel. But when it turned out that the hotel lost electricity and his home didn’t, Father Bergeron was able to assist the priest — through a combination of walking and driving — back to the safety of his home.

Father Bergeron has seen heavy rain in his life, but nothing to compare with Hurricane Harvey. 

“It has been a dangerous situation,” he said, “but we must not give up hope.” His prayer has been, he said, “for an end to the rain, and the beginning of a reign of the mercy of the Lord.”

Father Bergeron, the oldest of seven, is a French Canadian who grew up in Quebec. After a brief business career, he decided to join the Companions of the Cross, a religious community founded by Father Bob Bedard, who was active in the charismatic movement. Today, the community has 40 priests, including two bishops, and has served Houston’s Charismatic Center since 1999. Father Bergeron has served as associate director of the center for two years. Priests at the center provide Mass and the sacraments to a mostly Latino community, as well as evangelization retreats, Father Bergeron said. These help participants “have an encounter with Jesus Christ and to begin a journey alongside him,” he said. 

Jim Graves writes from California.

Storm shutters Catholic chancery, schools


Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas coastline Aug. 25 as a Category 4 storm, with winds reaching 130 miles an hour. It brought devastating rains to cities along Texas’ Gulf Coast, and caused major flooding in Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city. Tens of thousands of people are in shelters, and police have rescued thousands more. Forecasters were predicting that Houston would reach a minimum of 50 inches of rain.

As the rain continued to fall, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, who serves as archbishop of Galveston-Houston and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, asked for “prayers and solidarity” for those impacted by the hurricane.

“Hurricane Harvey hit the Gulf Coast in a catastrophic and devastating way ... bringing with it severe flooding and high winds which have taken human life, caused countless injuries and severely damaged homes and property throughout the region,” he said.

Due to the continuing rains, the cardinal excused the faithful in the archdiocese from Sunday Mass attendance. He also closed the archdiocesan chancery office, as well as many of the archdiocesan schools.

In a warning to local pastors immediately before the storm struck, Kirk Jenings, director of risk management for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, advised pastors to “prepare for excessive rain and verify roof drains and storm drains are free of obstructions.” He continued, “… prepare to endure what is likely to be the strongest hurricane to strike the region since Hurricane Celia, in 1970, or perhaps even Carla, in 1961.”

Local Organizations Respond to Need
bottledwater
Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe, Texas serves as an evacuee shelter. CNS photo by James Ramos, Texas Catholic Herald

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston is providing emergency relief to families affected by the hurricane. Donate at catholiccharities.org/helpforharvey.

Houston’s St. Vincent de Paul Society is meeting short-term needs by helping victims acquire food, clothing, medical supplies. In addition, it will work with individuals and families for the long term to ensure a full recovery. Donate at svdphouston.org.

For more ways to help, read our Editorial.