By: Jason Songe
“It is only in shadows that one comes to know the light.“–St. Catherine of Siena
There are some things I never want to experience again. Perusing a funeral parlor casket showroom. Watching a family member lose their battle with alcohol addiction. And seeing high water flood lines on a building.
As weeks, months, and years passed after Katrina, as buildings were razed or renovated, the water marks in New Orleans subtly disappeared from the city’s fabric.
And I responded by not thinking about them. For about nine or ten years. In the same way I would not think about a casket showroom.
So, this past Saturday I was shocked when, as I was riding in a bus down I-10, I was again confronted with the horror of flood lines. I looked out the window and saw them on the buildings outside Beaumont lining the highway. “Oh no.” It happened again. Instant commiseration was the feeling. And dread. Because I remembered how long it took New Orleans to recover. Some people of Beaumont and Houston had not even returned yet. They were going through and still to start the rebuilding process. I remembered the uncertainty. A life upended. And that’s not even counting the insurance adjusters.
I was traveling with 51 other volunteers of all ages in a charter bus headed to provide relief to Beaumont and Houston. Two of those participants were fellow seminarians David DesPres and Nicholas Duncan. We were bringing donations to communities impacted by Hurricane Harvey. Most of the travelers were families from St. Catherine of Siena(SCS) Parish in Metairie, LA. For the previous two weeks, the parishioners had accepted, sorted, and packed donations into six 18 wheelers, each with 53 feet of cargo space.
“The items we brought–water, clothing, an incredible amount of diapers–are all things that we all take for granted,” said DesPres on Monday. “It is humbling to realize how simple our needs really are.”
Needs that were happy to be met by those with no affiliation to St. Catherine and in not the best condition themselves.
“A man with terminal cancer who was starting chemotherapy the following Monday helped to wave cars through the drop-off area–for a whole day,” said Katie Cusimano Blanchard, a SCS parishioner and volunteer who took the trip.
“Little old ladies, some with significant health issues, carried boxes and sorted donations,” Blanchard continued. “When we saw a specific item we thought we needed more of, we would send the word out and the next day the church would be filled with that item!”
Right before we left St. Catherine at 4:45 a.m. Archbishop of New Orleans Gregory Aymond prayed with us and gave us a blessing.
We departed Metairie with a Jefferson Parish Police escort that took us all the way to Beaumont, where we were greeted at a Catholic Charities warehouse by a second apostle: Bishop Curtis Guillory. He thanked us and also prayed with the group.
Then we went to work, forming lines to pass items from the 18 wheeler to the warehouse. The pallet jacks were manned, sometimes by Fr. Tim Hedrick, parochial vicar of SCS. Items were stacked, wrapped, and then pallet jacked to the back of the warehouse. The needy were expected to arrive and attain items on Monday.
It was good to know we were not alone in our generosity. While we were in Beaumont, people from Oklahoma City and Luling pulled up with donations.
Next up was Houston, where we dropped off donations at Knights of Columbus and St. Vincent De Paul.
There were many KOC members to help us unload, and we were met at St. Vincent De Paul by Archdiocese of Houston Vice Chancellor Christina Deajon. She expressed her gratitude and the gratitude of Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, archbishop of Houston.
We made it back to New Orleans by midnight, and we ended the 20 hour trip with a Mass at St. Catherine by Fr. Hedrick. About half of the volunteers stayed for Mass, and on invitation from Fr. Hedrick, they gathered around the altar. Fr. Hedrick gave reading duties to the children, and he walked from person to person distributing the Eucharist.
I met Jesus many times that day. I met Him in Archbishop Aymond, Bishop Guillory, and Fr. Hedrick. I met Him in my fellow brother seminarians and the many volunteers who had sacrificed their Saturday and many other hours. But I probably met Him in the most profound way through those I did not meet–the needy who would humble themselves on Monday by taking the donations we had carried. I want to meet Jesus again and again. Sometimes the quickest way to Him is through the flood lines.
“Nothing great is ever achieved without much enduring.“–St. Catherine of Siena
About the Author: Jason Songe
Jason Songe is a seminarian in Pre-Theology 1. He attended grade school at St. Catherine of Siena.
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