- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 1, 2005


There was little else to do but pray after the storm destroyed everything.

In heavily Roman Catholic Louisiana, and along the religiously conservative Gulf Coast, survivors of Hurricane Katrina sought the presence of God when no other help seemed near.

“God’s got our back,” said Josephine Elow, 73, at the hotel Le Richelieu in New Orleans’ French Quarter.

Aaron Williams arrived at the Superdome with a small crate of what remained of his property: canned goods, water, cigarettes and a Bible.

“No matter what religion you are, whether you’re a Catholic, whether you’re voodoo, whether you’re Baptist or so on, so on, and so on — we all pray. We all pray,” tour booker Gail Henke said after the hurricane blew through New Orleans.

The city is a hothouse of faith: a mix of Roman Catholicism, black Protestantism and Afro-Caribbean religions. Alongside Catholic churches are mostly black “spiritual churches” that blend the city’s three major influences, said Rodger Payne, chairman of the philosophy and religion department at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

Black Protestants in the region tend to be religious conservatives who believe in living a “morally upright life,” no matter what poverty and hardships they face, said Melissa Harris-Lacewell, a University of Chicago political scientist who researches race and religion.

“These are folks who really believe the Bible is the literal word of God,” she said.

It was no surprise that they sought spiritual relief from their unbearable burdens.

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco asked residents to spend Wednesday in prayer. “That would be the best thing to calm our spirits and thank our Lord that we are survivors,” she said.

Outsiders joined them. Unlike the days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, volunteers could not pour into the area from other parts of the country to help with cleanup. But they could send a check to a relief group and ask God to protect the victims.

The World Prayer Center at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs asked its 70,000 members to pray for the Gulf Coast and send money to charities involved in the cleanup.

Pope Benedict XVI offered his prayers, and the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops asked all the nation’s parishes to take collections for relief and to pray.

Some religious Americans are viewing the destruction as a sign of God’s wrath against a sinful city, or a signal of the end times — theories that mainstream religious thinkers reject.

William Lawrence, dean of the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said faith should be a comfort to the survivors, not a tool for doomsday thinking.

“The most basic elements of life and existence are the only things we have left in a tragedy like this,” said Mr. Lawrence, who has lived through two hurricanes. “When everything else is gone, we ask, ‘What are the sources of strength to which I can turn?’”

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