- The Washington Times - Monday, January 3, 2005

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick took the words right out of my mouth when he told the congregation gathered for a special Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle on Sunday: “In my lifetime, I have never seen anything quite as horrible, quite this terrible, that has taken so many lives and destroyed so much of God’s land.”

Let the church say “amen.” Let us all pray and pass the collection plate.

Who can wrap their brain around the very idea of more than 139,000 people losing their lives in a single natural disaster? Though thousands have died and millions have been injured and displaced, no one remains untouched by the Indian Ocean tsunami that devastated so many lives and so many lands.

As if we needed another painful reminder, we’re unwittingly taught once again that the true nature of life is transitory.

That’s the bad news about this mind-boggling disaster that struck while so many blessed folks all over the world were still unwrapping Christmas presents. The juxtaposition of people crying for food and lost loved ones and people squealing with joy and surrounded by doting loved ones was at once too much to bear.

Who didn’t feel hopeless to help? Who didn’t try? That’s how we get to the good news. With the new year came new hope not only for the victims of this tragedy, but also for the volunteers who have lent a heaping helping hand.

My granny used to say, “Many hands make the load light.” And, the good news is that all over the world, people have shown that we can act like a global community. We can come together to help our neighbor even if that neighbor lives oceans away.

Don’t get sidetracked by global politics. Don’t wait for politicians of any stripe or country to do the right thing, either. It matters how much governments pledge for such a disaster, but it matters more what each individual does. Be prepared to dig deep and dig often.

On New Year’s Eve, there are certain people I can count on to reach out and touch me to wish me well. My longtime Sistagirl Lurma Rackley is one of those dependable, caring people. However, her 2005 greeting was fast and frantic.

Ms. Rackley is a spokeswoman for the international CARE organization with headquarters in Atlanta. Needless to say, she did not have a very restful holiday. Still, she was “overwhelmed with gratitude.” CARE, like the Red Cross and other international service organizations, is among the first responders to natural and man-made disasters in poor and war-torn areas of the world where they also do God’s work year round.

Ms. Rackley said CARE, like others, witnessed an unprecedented and immediate “overwhelming outpouring” of calls from “blessed” volunteers and supporters whose “hearts were so touched” as soon as the horrific photographs of the devastation were shown. Ms. Rackley said CARE had received $11 million in just one week since the Dec. 26 tsunami. In 1999, it received $5.9 million and in 2000 it received $239,000 for the coastal victims of Hurricane Mitch. It collected $8.3 million over several months for the Kosovo crisis in 1999 and 2000. Ms. Rackley said the biggest difference about the callers this past week were the vast numbers who wanted to travel to the devastated Asian areas to volunteer their professional expertise and hands-on support.

However, she advised that the best way to help is to send cash to reputable charities and service organizations such as CARE that can get supplies to victims faster. She pointed out that it poses an additional problem to accommodate volunteers in stricken areas where beds, water and food are already scarce.

Ms. Rackley also suggested that supporters remember that there is “no quick fix” to saving lives and rebuilding communities.

Indeed, we all have to stay focused and be willing to help for the long term.

While CARE is trying to save lives by getting food, clothing, shelter and other supplies to victims, it also is looking ahead to infrastructure needs. Helping victims find work to meet their future needs presents a huge challenge, for example. With the new year, there undoubtedly will be new tragedies, new challenges and new triumphs.

Too bad that it takes a co-opted hokey holiday or a deadly disaster to remind us of the good Samaritan’s message to love one another as we love ourselves.

For all who bemoaned the commercialization of Christmas, for all those who preached that “Jesus is the reason for the season,” the overwhelming outpouring of support for the victims of the terrible tsunami sends the unmistakable sign that there is still more good than evil on Earth.

As we move into 2005, we will do well to remember that the next breath may be our last. Maybe we don’t have to fear tsunamis in Asia or floods in Haiti or ethnic cleansing in Sudan, or maybe not even a plane crashing into our building while sipping our morning coffee.

Make the best of the new year by being a new you. Step outside yourself and your comfort zone. Act like a member of the global community. Be a good Samaritan year round for years to come. Help someone who cannot help you.

As Cardinal McCarrick and Ms. Rackley note, in all our lives we have never been so able to look around at many lives and many lands that could use so many hands.

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