It’s cold comfort for millions of people in Texas that, along with the winds, rains, flooding, loss of life and devastation to property, such a disaster has the potential to bring out the best in people. The loss experienced by those in and around Houston is life-shattering and will take years to move past. As The New York Times reported Aug. 28, officials say “the scale of the crisis was so vast that they were nowhere near being able to measure it, much less fully address it.”
And yet, even in the face of such devastation, Hurricane Harvey has reminded us of the strength of the social fabric of our nation. In Harvey’s wake, we are seeing Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself” being lived out in real time, as we witness images of rescue workers and ordinary citizens alike tirelessly running toward danger and assisting people stranded in the floodwaters, housed in shelters or otherwise displaced by the storm.
Through such actions, the corporal works of mercy are lived out, and Christians are reminded of our obligation to love our neighbor not only during times of tragedy and trial, but at all times. By the grace of God, the severity of such disasters offers an opportunity for each of us to put life in perspective. Calamity serves as a wake-up call to the true nature of our relationship with — and responsibility to — other people. Concepts such as “otherness” and “scarcity” almost immediately fall away. Shared humanity and generosity prevail.
Those of us not in Houston are watching the disaster unfold from afar via images and stories on screens and devices. But technology isn’t just responsible for communicating the life-saving work being done; it’s playing a part. Aided by apps and social media, citizens with boats from around the country — such as Louisiana’s Cajun Navy — have swarmed the disaster area in an all-hands-on-deck rescue effort to locate the stranded. Technology that too often is used to attack and defame people is transformed in the face of disaster.
While disasters are a time when many people feel helpless, people of goodwill everywhere should find encouragement in the fact that, with God, no act of loving solidarity is wasted, whether simply our prayers, donations of supplies or monetary support.
The Texas Catholic Conference has posted an online roundup of where people can provide support: https://txcatholic.org/harvey/
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announced Aug. 29 that all bishops were encouraged to take up an emergency second collection the weekend of Sept. 2-3 or Sept. 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 peace and normalcy,” said Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, vice president of the USCCB. “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.”
Funds from the USCCB’s emergency collection will support the humanitarian and recovery efforts of Catholic Charities USA and provide pastoral and rebuilding support to affected dioceses. For more information, contact your local diocese or visit catholiccharitiesusa.org.
On the long journey to recovery, the resilience of the people of Texas and the tenacity of those who help them rebuild will no doubt be on display — as will the generous hearts of people of faith and the faithfulness of a loving God.
Editorial Board: Greg Willits, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor-in-chief; Don Clemmer, managing editor