With vacations coming to an end and students returning to school, it is clear that summer has ended. The usual rhythm of life sort of restarts in families and parishes across the Diocese and the nation, and hopefully restarts for us all with a positive urge to do good and to enjoy the life God has given us.
We are all aware of our own needs; this comes naturally to us. As believers, we are always called to consider the needs of others and to find concrete ways to respond to those needs. Recent events in our society confront us with the terrible situations others must deal with in life.
The events in Charlottesville remind us of the extent to which the sin of racism continues to afflict our nation. In 1979, the Bishops of the United States wrote Brothers and Sisters to Us, a pastoral statement on racism, and declared that “Racism is a sin: a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family, and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father.” The images from Charlottesville demonstrate how deeply rooted this sin can be within our national consciousness and the efforts that need to be made, with the help of grace, to root out sinful prejudice from our hearts and from our national dialogue. I am confident that our Catholic schools and our parish schools of religion are sharing the Gospel truth that we are all members of one family, the children of the one God and Father of us all. It is important that our young people learn this lesson and have it continually reinforced by our own behavior and language, as we strive to be the welcoming community that Christ invites us to be, teaching to love our neighbor as ourselves.
For the second summer in a row, we have been given another opportunity to love our neighbors in a very concrete way. Once again, the flooding of small towns and big cities has become horrible for many innocent and good people. As I write to you, the State of Texas is seeing what many are calling a 500 year or 1000 year flooding event, with Hurricane Harvey pouring dozens of inches of rain on the Texas Gulf Coast. The images on television recall the devastation from Hurricane Katrina, from which Louisiana is still recovering more than a decade later.
In the past year, we in West Virginia have seen disastrous flooding and the efforts at immediate assistance and longer term recovery. Just a few weeks ago, renewed flooding affected 8 of our counties, with families caught off guard by swiftly rising water and tremendous mudslides. In my life, last summer’s flooding was a real learning experience: it can seem unimaginable until you see face-to-face how many people and families suffer so much and are faced with loosing so many personal, cherished things but yet have the courage to go on.
We are called to help others and I have seen a fantastic response by so many good people coming from all over and jumping in to help others. I saw this last summer throughout the southern part of our State as agencies, religious groups, and many of our own people volunteered to assist in disaster relief. In the flooding this July, volunteers got to work almost immediately, with neighbor helping neighbor and communities banding together to help one another. I do know that right now there are a tremendous amount of people on the move to help the people of southeast Texas. The nightly news brings us images from Houston and other communities of people rescuing one another and risking all to help strangers. As Bishop of this wonderful Diocese, I have seen so much good in this past year. I believe that the same spirit of our American people will respond with great generosity to the needs in Texas. This is a good time to pray for others as is always a great part of life as we know Jesus often went off to pray. We should be praying for all the victims of these great catastrophes. We hold also to be charitable to the victims if it is in our means but we can all pray. The United States Catholic Conference of Bishops will take up a National Collection to aid these Catholics in the other dioceses. Our own collections here in West Virginia have been a great gift and help to so many here at home and elsewhere. The true scope of this devastation will not be known for some time. I do believe this will be of horrible proportions, so please keep praying hard and often.