By Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond
(Clarion Herald 8/7/10 – English; 8/21/10 – Spanish)
What are your feelings now that the oil well in the Gulf of Mexico appears to be capped?
It is good news that the cap is working and that the relief wells are ahead of schedule. But I don’t believe it is accurate to say the crisis is over. From the reports we have received, we have no idea how much oil is underwater. From what the parish presidents have said, there is still visible oil in the marshes that needs to be absorbed and cleaned. I would hope that BP remains faithful to its promise of cleaning up all of the oil as well as providing the needed resources to those in the fishing and oil industries who are out of work.
What does the church have to say about this crisis?
In our Catholic tradition, we call this response social justice. As people of God, we must be good stewards of the gifts that have been given to us and take responsibility for our actions, which have been not only an inconvenience but also a detriment to others who have now been exposed to an unstable livelihood. In a spirit of charity and social justice, I pray that BP officials will continue to provide the needed cleanup as well as financial resources to stabilize families.
What has the local church done during these last three months?
I’m deeply humbled by and grateful for the response of Catholic Charities. We have provided emergency assistance to nearly 7,000 families and more than 18,000 individuals through our five church-based emergency relief centers. We’ve distributed enough food to provide for 305,000 meals. The staff of Catholic Charities, especially those who are on the front lines, have provided a sense of hope and confidence to the people in the archdiocese who have been most affected by the oil spill.
What kind of feedback have you gotten from parishioners the last four weeks after having celebrated Mass in the hardest-hit areas?
It has been a powerful and moving experience to hear their stories of rebuilding from Katrina and Gustav, and now they are grappling with an unknown future because of the oil spill. I heard story after story that clearly indicate that these are people of deep faith, perseverance and resilience. One oysterman who has a wife and several small children said he was not at all certain of his future, but nevertheless, he said he would rebuild again. He told me, “We’ve done this before, and God is with us.” That kind of faith encourages my own faith and helps me see and appreciate the tremendous strength of the people in St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes.
BP gave an initial $1 million to Catholic Charities and Second Harvest Food Bank to provide direct assistance, food, household supplies and counseling. Where do those resources stand?
We have exhausted those funds. Nevertheless, in visiting the parishes I mentioned to parishioners that Catholic Charities will continue to be there until this crisis is over. Some would ask how I could make a promise like that when we have “run out of money.” I truly believe God is faithful and will provide the resources for us to continue to extend our love, care and charity to our sisters and brothers in this time of critical need.
Do you have any thoughts on the oil-drilling moratorium that could have an impact on the Louisiana economy?
I’m not good at politics, and I’ve never had any thoughts or ambitions to be a politician. At the same time, from my study and discussions with politicians and parish presidents, it seems as though the federal decision to ban deepwater exploration is unnecessary. When one person in a family makes a mistake, we do not punish the whole family. This decision, whether it’s short-term or long-term, could have a devastating effect on jobs in Louisiana and on the livelihood of our people. It would be far better to make sure that companies are acting responsibly and justly and have provisions to be able to address critical situations as they happen. It’s also very important to note that in the last 100-plus days, we have been understandably consumed by the spill, the ban on drilling and other ramifications from this crisis. In the midst of all of this, we must continue to remember the 11 men who died in the accident. It seems as though in some ways, they and their families may have been forgotten. Their families, in particular, need our continued prayers in this time of grief.
Archbishop Aymond welcomes questions from readers.
Please e-mail questions to [email protected]