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A Mass of Renewal in New Orleans

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.

Tens of thousands of residents have been returning to homes in New Orleans, although most of the city remains without electricity and drinking water. The Army Corps of Engineers was still pumping floodwater out of the Ninth Ward. But for the first time since Hurricane Katrina, the bells of St. Louis Cathedral rang out and a priest celebrated Mass today. NPR's John Ydstie filed this report.

JOHN YDSTIE reporting:

Worshipers from surrounding parishes joined local residents at the majestic cathedral on Jackson Square for what was part a service of mourning but largely one of renewal. There were words of comfort, hymns and prayers.

Unidentified Man: For all who have lost family members and friends in death and in the diaspora caused by the hurricanes, that they may be given healing and comfort by the Lord, Jesus, and all his children. We pray to the Lord.

Congregation: (In unison) Hear us, oh, Lord.

(Soundbite of song)

Chorus: (Singing) ...(Unintelligible).

YDSTIE: In his homily, Archbishop Alfred Hughes wrestled with God's role in the hurricanes. He argued God does not cause catastrophes but only tolerates them for the good that may result. In this case, he said, that might be manifest in less self-indulgence and greater concern for others.

(Soundbite of people talking; horn)

YDSTIE: Outside the cathedral after the service, Grayling B. Banks(ph), a New Orleans native and resident of uptown, who stayed through Katrina and the resulting chaos, said he agreed with the archbishop.

Mr. GRAYLING B. BANKS: It was not a condemnation; it was not God's wrath that brought us down. But it was a wake-up call for everybody to understand that we've been given a lot, and to whom much is given, much is expected. This is a city that has the potential to be one of the greatest cities that civilization has ever known, and we have been squandering that.

YDSTIE: For Gina Langua(ph) of Jefferson Parish, there were personal reasons for coming to Mass today.

Ms. GINA LANGUA: This is where my husband and I were married 11 years ago, and it's one of the reasons I cried so hard a few weeks back when the city was flooding, that I thought my church might be flooded and the memories of our wedding. And it just signifies everything coming back.

YDSTIE: Paul Arseneau(ph) of Plaquemine Parish said he found hope and inspiration this morning.

Mr. PAUL ARSENEAU: It was so heartening to hear that the churches, the schools and everything are coming back.

YDSTIE: While many inside the church today suffered great devastation to homes and families from the hurricanes, St. Louis Cathedral was largely unscathed.

John Ydstie, NPR News, New Orleans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

John Ydstie
John Ydstie has covered the economy, Wall Street, and the Federal Reserve at NPR for nearly three decades. Over the years, NPR has also employed Ydstie's reporting skills to cover major stories like the aftermath of Sept. 11, Hurricane Katrina, the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. He was a lead reporter in NPR's coverage of the global financial crisis and the Great Recession, as well as the network's coverage of President Trump's economic policies. Ydstie has also been a guest host on the NPR news programs Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. Ydstie stepped back from full-time reporting in late 2018, but plans to continue to contribute to NPR through part-time assignments and work on special projects.