What we have seen and experienced in the last two weeks has been mind-numbing. Since we have weathered many hurricanes in the past, it is hard to believe that such a storm could create such havoc in our communities as Sandy did.
There is a wide gap among the kinds of pain we all have experienced because of Sandy. Some have lost their homes, an unfathomable tragedy. Others have spent days and even weeks with no electric and even no gasoline to power their automobiles.
As has been said, the worst conditions always seem to bring out the best in people. It takes a disaster such as this to call us back to the basic needs of life and to appreciate what we have.
Families, our greatest treasure, have come together to aid each of their members. Community organizations have jumped off the starting line in their attempts to assist the afflicted. Neighbor is reaching out to neighbor. Stranger is looking out for other strangers.
Sure, we will need the help of large government agencies to get back on our feet, but the lesson learned from surviving a tragedy is that it eventually comes down to people helping people. Life is about relationships, not programs with bureaucratic red tape and more paper forms.
As Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio and other public leaders have said over the past few days, the recovery process will be long-term. Patience is needed. Not the patience of one who would put off till tomorrow what can be accomplished today, but the patience that is based on faith and realistic hope.
The Church has been a guiding light through this terrible storm. From the concern of the local pastor to the visible presence of the chief shepherd, the Church has been on the scene to comfort its people and offer hope for a brighter day. The heroic stories of priests who did not want to leave their parishes that were under siege to the follow-up visits from Catholics Charities officials, the Church has stood toe-to-toe in advocacy for recovery and resources.
For instance, Catholic Charities was the first to respond to the horrific conditions on the Rockaway peninsula. In Gerritsen Beach, a neighborhood almost washed away by Sandy, the parish became the place to which to flee for shelter and food.
The stories of our clergy are many, from the pastor who gave up his shower so others could wash, to the priest stationed overseas who secured housing for the dispossessed in his former parish which had not been hit as hard.
There is legitimate concern for the tardiness of relief to the outer boroughs, as Manhattan quickly became the focus of major relief efforts. It took time to get the lights back on in Lower Manhattan, but days continued to pass while the Rockaways and Red Hook still had no power.
The power may have been pulled, but the Church has never stood stronger as when one person reached out across the street and brought his brother or sister to shelter. This is the work of the Church of Jesus at its best.
And as people were being fed and others were giving the clothes from their closets, the supreme act of thanksgiving and praise, the Eucharist, continued to be celebrated by candlelight, by portable generators and by sheer will power as God’s People came together.
The work of the Church goes on, and it will continue.
As Bishop DiMarzio said to the congregation in Breezy Point last weekend, “As long as you are here, we will be here with you.”