In the midst of the devastation and destruction caused by Hurricane Ike, my first and abiding impression as Bishop is an observation made by a utility worker I met in West Cameron Parish. He was a Doucet from Canada and had come all that way, along with an entire crew, to restore electrical power.

I pointed out to him that his name along with a number of others—there was a Savoy with him also—were common to Southwest Louisiana. Tragedy had brought these "cousins" from Canada and Louisiana together. As though in the family, he offered his observation about the residents of the area. He said, "These are courageous people." Indeed they are.

Traveling along highways eroded by the storm surge, I saw trailers overturned, shrimp boats capsized, homes gutted as though by some explosion, trees stripped and browned by salt exposure, alligators and snakes slinking lazily across our path, and water like an apocalyptic sea of glass everywhere. Six churches were severely damaged—one of them left naked with nothing but a frame, along with four rectories and four parish halls. And these were only the Catholic churches. Our brothers and sisters of other faiths suffered as much. What was so sad, and it returned in conversation with every Cameron Parish resident, was the repetition of the event. The words used to describe post-Ike could have been used to describe post-Rita. What is so discouraging is that the remaining homes, churches, parish halls, and businesses destroyed by Ike were rebuilt from another storm. Some had just been dedicated. Some still had the smell of wet paint. "These are courageous people."

In the midst of this surreal landscape, as I walked into the waterlogged churches of Hackberry, Cameron, Creole, and Grand Chenier, I met local people of courage cleaning them out. The two days I visited Cameron Parish along with Father Torres, Johnson Bayou was inaccessible and crossing to Big Lake was limited and problematic. I saw the pastors. Father Tolentino accompanied me to Hackberry. Father McGrath brought me to East Cameron, courtesy of a kind parishioner in the OEP. We met Father Vincent along the way, having just returned from a look at his church. Msgr. Greig had been busily surveying the damage to his parish and supervising the clean-up. And there were the work crews, throwing away, in many cases, new pews, just installed, but now rendered useless by salty water and mud, laminate wood peeling and cushions dripping wet. They were sweeping up stained glass made by a local artisan, retrieving hand carved wood statues from the marsh, cutting away wet sheetrock, mahogany panels and insulation, and attempting to quickly hook up generators to dry the humid air before black mold made what remained irretrievable. The mud was inches deep, the residue of six to eight feet of water, now being washed out. I saw courage in every face, shaken, yes, but resolved.

Would they return? That was the question I heard everyone asking. I asked it myself. Doubtless there would be some, perhaps many, who would decide it is better to live in a more benign location. However, one can never underestimate the virtue of courage. And virtue, as a grace, comes in ways that surprise us because only God can give it.

One of the more dramatic episodes of my visitation was in a cemetery. The coroner had asked me to pray graveside prayers. So the workers gathered around with the utility personnel from Canada and the priests and a few parishioners, and we joined in prayer, blessed the ground, and commended the deceased in their proper place to await the Resurrection. Hope is a precondition of courage. So is faith.

The statue of St. Peter in Hackberry never fell, I was told, either with Rita or with Ike. The shrine at Our Lady Star of the Sea, erected after Hurricane Audrey in ’57, still stood. Over five hundred people were lost in that tragic event. Thanks to evacuation, better prediction, experience, and God’s grace, Rita and Ike had seen far fewer fatalities. The tragedy of those two storms had taken another route.

Many shared their tragedies with us, those without insurance, others terminally ill, some physically unable to rebuild, hundreds left homeless. No one asked me the meaning of it all. If they had, I might have answered that it was a mystery, which it is. Perhaps the answer came when a gentleman turned to Father McGrath, his pastor, and asked, "When will we get back into our church?" What his good pastor answered at the time was important, but I think the question is just as important. We return to the courage that our Canadian cousin found remarkable.

Tragedy, besides its necessity and reason for existence, can bring out the best in us. Had not St. Paul reminded the Corinthians, "As you share in the sufferings, you also share in the encouragement" (II Corinthians 1:7)? Through affliction came encouragement because the sufferings were redemptive. A parishioner’s yearning for a place of worship was not only a desire to return home but also a profession of faith. Tragedy had prompted a good.

My visit to Cameron Parish left me with a sense of having touched something profound. Every tragedy opens up to a human the possibility of entering into a deeper mystery. That mystery places everything else in perspective. I got into my car the next morning to drive to the office and did what I usually do. I turned on the radio for the news. With lightning speed, I turned the radio off. I could not listen. I had heard and seen too much. I wanted silence. I wanted to dwell with the mystery a while longer.