Hurricane response: Remembering the too quickly forgotten

“The Gospel calls us to be close to the poor and forgotten, and to give them real hope.” — Pope Francis

As I watched reports about the hurricanes in Texas, Florida and beyond, I couldn’t help but think about the people who are poor in these areas.

By Kathy Langer

Those who, before the storms, were just getting by with no extra money for gas or food and who are living from paycheck to paycheck. What happens to them and their families when they are told to evacuate?  How do they come up with the extra $1,000+ to board up their home and get supplies? And, what does someone do when he or she can no longer work and get a paycheck? I want to hear the story about these people — the forgotten ones, the ones who are invisible.

With 24-hour news coverage focused on the hurricanes, am I missing the times when people living in poverty are covered? When a reporter asks them how they are faring?  Or are they not being asked? When Florida Gov. Rick Scott warns repeatedly that this is “not a storm you can sit and wait through,” what happens if that is your only option? It seems that when we look at life situations, we are looking at them only through the lens of our own economic class.

An article in The Atlantic, “The Hideous Inequality Exposed by Hurricane Sandy,” from Oct. 31, 2012, tells the story of this hurricane in the title alone. The author, David Rohde, wrote that, while the divisions between the rich and poor are nothing new in New York, “the storm brought them vividly to the surface. There were residents like me who could invest all of their time and energy into protecting their families.

And there were New Yorkers who could not,” including all those who were in low-paying service-type jobs.

These people needed to work at businesses that were still open and serve those who could afford to be with their families.

This situation reminds me once again of the people whom Jesus noticed but others seemed to forget. Remember the story of the lepers from whom others ran away but Jesus healed? There’s the story of the Samaritan woman who came to the well, when she thought no one would notice — but Jesus noticed and made a preacher out of her! There is Bartimaeus, a blind beggar whom the disciples told to be quiet!  Jesus noticed and healed him.

I am sure you can think of many more instances when Jesus noticed and stood with people who often were overlooked. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks as well of those who are poor, stating that Jesus “declares them blessed, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (544:253) and “makes active love towards them the condition for entering his kingdom” (544:256).

The Francis effect

Pope Francis certainly “makes active love towards them” as he notices and stands with people who for years have gone unnoticed. He added showers for homeless people and later found out they had no way to wash their clothes so a free laundromat was opened.

On Holy Thursday for the foot washing, he always chooses to wash the feet of people in prison, juvenile detention centers and people who often go unnoticed or are feared for their race, religion or gender. He is only following the Gospel message that calls the followers of Jesus to have compassion for the poor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked and stand with the vulnerable.

Pope Francis reminds us and the people of the world to hear the voices of our brothers and sisters who are poor, lost, marginalized and disenfranchised, just like Jesus did in his time.

So, how do we stand with and notice those forgotten in the hurricanes? One thing we know for sure: It will be those who are middle- and upper-income people who will recover more quickly than those with low incomes.  How will you remember them in the coming months and years? How will you “make active love” a part of your response to this disaster in the months and year ahead?

Let us pray together:  “Loving God, help us to notice the ones whom the world quickly forgets.”

Kathy Langer is director of social concerns for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Cloud.

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The Visitor is the official newpaper for the Diocese of Saint Cloud.

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