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 CNS Story:

SAMBI-NEWORLEANS Sep-22-2006 (690 words) xxxn

'Misery tour' of New Orleans an eye-opener for visiting bishops

By Florence Herman
Catholic News Service

NEW ORLEANS (CNS) -- Although Archbishop Pietro Sambi said he was aware of New Orleans' plight when he was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to be papal nuncio to the United States in early 2006, it was not until he took what is locally called a "misery tour" Sept. 14 that he realized the extent of the damage.

"You cannot measure the extent of it until you come on the spot," he said near the end of a tour that took a dozen bishops through some of the worst damage wreaked by Hurricane Katrina Aug. 29, 2005, and the subsequent flooding caused by the failure of the levees.

Archbishop Sambi and other bishops were in New Orleans to celebrate the archdiocese's three archbishops and 100 years (combined) of their episcopacies.

Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes, current head of the archdiocese, was first ordained a bishop in 1981, as an auxiliary for Boston. His predecessor, retired Archbishop Francis B. Schulte, was also first ordained a bishop in 1981, as an auxiliary for Philadelphia. Retired Archbishop Philip M. Hannan of New Orleans was ordained an auxiliary for Washington in 1956.

Sixteen bishops who had not been to New Orleans since Katrina took tours that were offered on Sept. 13 and 14, Archbishop Hughes said.

Archbishop Sambi said it was only when he was on the tour that he could "measure and see the extent of the damage." He was also struck by the "quantity of suffering, for persons, for houses, for the city."

He was impressed, he said, by the number of volunteers, the unity and collaboration that is going on. "Many of the people are beginning the rebuilding for themselves and out of sentiment for the city."

He told the Clarion Herald, the New Orleans archdiocesan newspaper, that he hoped "all those who would like to come back -- to their city and their houses, be given the possibility to do it."

For the family of Bishop Joseph N. Latino of Jackson, Miss., 3 feet of water was the magic number.

"My sister and brother-in-law's house took in about 3 feet of water, as did his office," said Bishop Latino, a New Orleans native. The house of another brother in another part of town also took in about 3 feet of water.

While his sister and brother-in-law have returned to home and office, his other brother is still waiting for repairs to be finished. "He hopes to be back in his house for Thanksgiving," Bishop Latino said.

The bishop said what happened to New Orleans "just tears me up. There are so many places that I grew up in, and they're gone."

The parishes he knew as a child growing up -- St. James Major, St. Raphael, St. Frances Cabrini -- are gone or were damaged.

"I'm just so sentimental about this city," he said.

When he first visited his native city in October, Miami Archbishop John C. Favalora said, "I couldn't even talk. I couldn't believe the utter destruction."

Bishop Gregory M. Aymond of Austin, Texas, also a New Orleans native, has a sister who still lives in the city, and he said she was lucky that her house took in only a few inches of water. But for himself, he said, seeing the suffering and disjointedness of families was hard, and he called the disruption "extraordinary."

"I'm glad to see they are taking everyone on 'misery tours,'" he said.

In Miami, Archbishop Favalora said, they are familiar with hurricanes and their aftermath. But it's usually just a contained area. In New Orleans, "every home was affected, not just a small zone."

On a July visit to the city, Archbishop Favalora said he crisscrossed one area and was dismayed by the pattern of recovery. "Every now and then you would see a house back or being brought back, but overall there was just no life," he said.

"It has just taken so long," Bishop Aymond said. "It points up the ineffectiveness of government -- on the city, state and federal levels -- in bringing the city back."


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