To subscribe to AVSI's newsletters enter your email address below and click on the "Subscribe" button.
The Infinite Present in America's Suffering: Judgment of Hurricane Katrina
Saturday, 10 September 2005 00:00

The following essay was prepared by the Catholic lay movement, Communion and Liberation, in response to the devastation of human life caused by Hurricane Katrina. AVSI-USA finds the judgment it contains to be useful to understand the meaning of such a tragedy and the provocation to solidarity and charity that follows.


The Infinite present in America’s suffering

Many commentators have pointed out how the New Orleans tragedy brings to light unresolved American social problems. The impact of the tragedy is being dissolved by those who reduce everything to a question of politics and only worry about finding “the guilty.”   Without reaching the level of absurdity of those who speak of divine retribution, in their own way, they end up saying that America “was asking for it”. They automatically attribute what happened to global warming (because of the US refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol), to the Iraq war (which emptied America’s military resources), or to indifference toward neighborhoods populated predominantly by Afro-Americans. These rabid accusations betoken an inability or a refusal to look into the depth of what is human.


On the other hand, there are Pope Benedict XVI’s calm and simple words that go directly to the heart of what happened. “In these days, we are all saddened by the disaster provoked by a hurricane in the United States of America, particularly in New Orleans. I would like to assure you of my prayers for the deceased and their families, for the wounded and the homeless, for the sick, the children and the elderly; I bestow a blessing on those who are engaged in the difficult work of aid and rebuilding. I have given the President of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, Archbishop Paul Josef Cordes, the task of bringing to the afflicted populations the witness of my solidarity.”


In front of death, in a person who—without   forgetting social concerns—first of all bears in mind the human condition, the first sentiment to well up is sorrow. When man is truly himself and perceives his religious sense without becoming ideological, he discovers his original dependence, his not being omnipotent, his being at the mercy of natural catastrophes, diseases, mistakes and the evil which he himself can commit, as the lootings and violence following the hurricane show.


It’s exactly this perception of his limit that makes man aware of a need for liberation that is beyond the means of any exclusively human project. For this reason, it is not unreasonable that our tradition springs from the announcement of Someone who—as the Pope’s words demonstrate—does not try to explain evil or find the guilty, but prays and invokes the Father to defeat this evil and give hope anew. So, not a single one of the dead in this tragedy is lost, since the sorrow of those who remain can have a meaning, if it is lived with human dignity and faith.  Indeed, if sorrow is lived this way, it can even become the starting point of social change. This kind of change has already happened by means of those who founded America with a desire for freedom that, throughout all its history, has never been dormant or cancelled, even by many mistakes. It has also happened by means of Afro-Americans, who in their spirituals sang of the Infinite present and, thus, laid  the foundations for a more just society.


In front of this tragedy, to once again announce Christian hope and love for every man—whatever be the color of his skin and his social status—means to nurture a desire for true solidarity, for sincere charity, for a will to rebuild with more social justice and intelligence. This is what gives value to the American quest for freedom, bringing it to fulfillment.


Communion and Liberation


September 2005