By Pamela Seal
Diocese of Lake Charles
LAKE CHARLES — Saint Pope John Paul II once said, “Faith is never a private matter. It is always missionary.” Living out this statement close to home is Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. He has a zeal for missionary work and is sharing that passion with Bishop Glen John Provost and those greatly affected by Hurricane Laura in the Diocese of Lake Charles.
“To accompany God’s people, in this case Lake Charles, we come to be like them as disciples and to offer ourselves to walk with them and to serve them,” Archbishop Aymond said after celebrating Mass for a group of Notre Dame seminarians on September 19 in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. The seminarians were back in Lake Charles for the second part of their Notre Dame Seminary Catholic Relief efforts.
As a symbol of solidarity for his brother bishop, the archbishop visited the area to see the ongoing outreach work being carried out by the seminarians as well as view firsthand the destruction and continued need in the diocese following the aftermath of the August 27 hurricane.
Joining him during his pastoral visit were representatives from the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Among those in attendance were Father Colm Cahill, director of vocations; Father Kurt Young, director of human formation at Notre Dame Seminary; Marianite of Holy Cross Sister Marjorie Hebert and Deacon Martin Gutierrez, both of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans; Natalie Jayroe, president and CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank — Feeding South Louisiana; Dr. RaeNell Houston, superintendent of Catholic Schools; and Cory Howat, executive director of the Catholic Community Foundation. Also assisting with relief efforts is Rob Tasman with the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops working closely with Bishop Provost.
Archbishop Aymond is doing his part to not only make sure those impacted by the Category 4 strength storm are not forgotten, but he also shared the message of missionary work with Notre Dame seminarians as they prepare for the priesthood.
“The Church closed in on itself is not truly fulfilling the mission of Christ,” he emphasized. “We have to always be mindful of that. It is dependent on every priest to be able to have a mission mind, to be able to understand this knowledge, to be able to preach and to teach others, and to be able to provide opportunities to challenge our brother priests.”
His message is just as relevant and important today as it was two-thousand years ago. The archbishop reminded the seminarians of Jesus’ message to the Apostles as he was preparing for his Ascension on Mount Tabor.
Christ said, “Go into the whole world and baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Teach them everything I have taught you. Tell them that I will be with them until the end of time.”
“He wasn’t kidding,” said Archbishop Aymond. “You and I as baptized Christians, and as priests and seminarians, we have to hear that personally. Jesus wasn’t merely suggesting; he was giving a command.”
The relief efforts on the part of the seminarians has taken the place of the annual “Acompaño" mission trip started more than 25 years ago in Nicaragua by then-Monsignor Aymond when he was rector of Notre Dame Seminary. Acompaño means to accompany, to walk with.
“A tragedy like this (hurricane) should not destroy one’s faith,” said the archbishop. “That’s why our role as missionaries, as leaders of the Church, is to help them to not give up on God. He has not given up on us.
“Out of this, something will be made whole,” he continued. “That is hard for people to hear when they have lost so much. Our presence can bring that sense of hope. This is the teaching of the Church.”
Archbishop Aymond also instructed the seminarians that missionary work is not just about helping people. The help is meant to lead them to Christ, to hunger for the Gospel.
Advising the seminarians in their role as missionaries, the archbishop cautioned them to never try to manipulate or force the teachings of Christ on anyone.
“Encourage them. Invite them. Be a voice for Christ. Life as priest should always point others to Christ,” he said.
In walking together, both the missionaries and those they serve should come to see Christ in others and in themselves.
Following the Mass, Archbishop Aymond toured Catholic Charities of Southwest Louisiana, where Sister Miriam MacLean, R.S.M., is director, followed by a visit to the convent of the Religious Sisters of Mercy, and wrapped up his visit at St. Henry Catholic Church.
On Sunday, September 20, the seminarians led a Eucharistic Procession for Hurricane Recovery from St. Henry to Catholic Charities, stopping for a period of Adoration and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. The procession continued on to the Cathedral for Adoration and prayers, concluding with Benediction.
Missionaries for the Acompaño Mission Trip 2020 in Lake Charles include the following Notre Dame seminarians: Diocese of Lake Charles — Treville Belcher and Garrett Broussard; Diocese of New Orleans — Austin Barr, Jorge Gomez and Cuong Tran; Diocese of Lafayette — Calvin Lemaire; Diocese of Alexandria — Donnie Kuzma; Diocese of Beaumont — Aaron Griffith; Diocese of Biloxi — Jesse Schmitt; Diocese of Jackson — Ryan Stoer and Tristan Stovall; Diocese of Dallas — Patrick Chester, Manuel Mora, Allen-Michael Muench and Peter Whitfield; Diocese of Tyler — Andrew Smith; Diocese of Memphis — John Raffanti and John Griffith; Diocese of Nashville — Joshua Bertram; Diocese of Savannah — Kevin Braski; Diocese of Atlanta — Joseph Fiorentino and Thomas Gaines; and Congregation of the Mother of the Redeemer — Brother George Nguyen and Brother Gabriel Vu.
The Leadership Team includes: Archbishop Aymond and Bishop Provost; seminarians — Steven Chabarria and Deacon Nick Nappier, both from the Diocese of Tyler; Josh Burch from the Diocese of Alexandria; Deacon Miguel Sotelo from the Diocese of Dallas; Nick Ware from the Diocese of Lafayette; Albert Blount from the Diocese of Baton Rouge; and Father Joe Krafft, director of pastoral formation and vice rector for the Theology 4 class.
Anyone wishing to assist with Hurricane Laura recovery efforts may send a check payable to the “Diocese of Lake Charles, P.O. Box 3223, Lake Charles, LA 70602 or donate online. Donations will be dedicated to addressing unmet needs of the diocese that are not eligible through state and Federal disaster relief programs. To view the some of the destruction through photos, click here.