Houston cardinal on prayer amid Harvey: 'We have to wake up Jesus in the boat!'

Houston cardinal on prayer amid Harvey: ‘We have to wake up Jesus in the boat!’

Considering the "cosmic" damage caused by Hurricane Harvey so far, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said Monday, “The people of Houston, I have to say, are rather resilient, but this is really stretching them." Calling for prayer on behalf of the affected region across the country and around the world, DiNardo said, “I think we have to wake up Jesus in the boat!”

Although Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston says the people of his sprawling archdiocese are long accustomed to strong rainfall, nothing has prepared them for the beating the city is taking from Hurricane Harvey, the impact of which he described as “cosmic.”

“The church is coping, but the situation for the people is a total disaster,” DiNardo said Monday.

“The flooding is not here or there, it’s everywhere. In addition, along the Brazos River, in a county called Fort Bend County, the river is overflowing. They’ve had to have immediate evacuations of up to 50,000, 60,000 people down there in those communities,” he said.

“The people of Houston, I have to say, are rather resilient, but this is really stretching them,” said DiNardo, who is also the current president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

As Dinardo said he told his seminarians on Monday, “I think we have to wake up Jesus in the boat!”

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston addresses a news conference Nov. 15, 2016, at the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore.  (Credit: CNS photo/Bob Roller.)

One of those people being stretched at the moment actually is DiNardo himself, who, despite his itch to get out into the field and be with his flock, finds himself stranded at Houston’s St. Mary Seminary where he lives because roads out are presently under water.

“To add insult to injury,” he said, “the electricity went out yesterday!”

DiNardo spoke to “The Crux of the Matter,” Crux’s weekly radio show that airs Mondays at 1:00 p.m. Eastern on the Catholic Channel, Sirius XM 129.

At least five people have been killed so far and more than a dozen injured in Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, since Hurricane Harvey made landfall late Friday. People scrambled to reach rooftops to escape rising floodwaters and social media has been alive with images of dramatic scenes, such as nursing home residents sitting in waist-high waters before they were rescued.

It won’t be until Harvey has made its way out of Houston before assessments will start rolling in about the extent of property damages caused by the storm, but it’s expected to be vast. Some experts are predicting the devastation will bring the area’s recent economic boom to a halt.

DiNardo said that so far, there’s only one parish in the archdiocese he’s aware of that suffered serious damage, but his main concern is with the city’s people.

“When you look at these people who are being rescued, when you watch people crying out for that kind of people, who will go back eventually with their homes gone and trying to start over, those are times when I think [prayer] around the nation and elsewhere can be a great contribution to us.

“Presently,” he added, “pray real hard!

“My pastors have shown remarkable patience and resilience, and it’s a great sign of a shepherd,” he said. “I want our people to do the same, notwithstanding that some of them are in terrible, terrible positions.”

The following is a transcript of the interview with DiNardo, which was conducted by Crux’s John Allen and Inés San Martín.

Crux: We can’t even imagine how busy you must be right now, so thank you for giving us a few minutes.

You’re welcome. To add insult to injury, I’m here at the seminary where I live [St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston], and the electricity went out yesterday!

Of course it did! To begin, can you give us the latest on how the church in Galveston-Houston is coping with this incredible storm?

I think the church is coping, but the situation for the people is a total disaster.

The flooding is not here or there, it’s everywhere. In addition, along the Brazos River, in a county called Fort Bend County, and the river is overflowing. They’ve had to have immediate evacuations of up to 50,000, 60,000 people down there in those communities. That’s all ongoing while the rain is still coming down. You can’t get into the city of Houston, because the interstates are flooded right near the city.

It’s a very difficult set of circumstances. Everyone, as it were, is sort of harboring in place. I’ve done some conference calls, and we’re really ready to move on some things, but when you have no mobility, that’s really tricky.

We were speaking with a couple of pastors in Houston this morning, and both told us you had called them yesterday so see how their parishes were doing. It meant the world to them. How much of that kind of thing do you find yourself doing right now?

Right now, that’s pretty much everything. I’m very frustrated in terms of what we can do to enter into the scene, let’s say with Catholic Charities, but I probably called forty pastors yesterday and called a few more this morning.

We’re not just trying to see how the buildings are doing, and outside of one parish, our buildings are doing pretty well. Our concern is with how the people are doing, and the people of Houston, I have to say, are rather resilient, but this is really stretching them.

I told the seminarians today, “I think we have to wake up Jesus in the boat!”

What can people who aren’t in Texas do right now to help?

Donations, especially to something like Catholic Charities, are important. Our Catholic Charities does some immediate aid, but what they’re spectacular at is case management. After the Red Cross and the others leave, Catholic Charities remains. Their work is really work, but obviously it needs staff and financing. In more immediate ways, most of our parishes now are integrated into the St. Vincent de Paul Society, so that’s really important.

For the rest, until we can get mobility, my major thought is, ‘Hold fast.’ Lots of things will come out in the next few days, once we can get beyond Harvey, that will allow us mobility and being able to gather together with staff and all, and to make some requests.

Right now, I really would ask for people’s prayers, and that’s not said out of pure piety. When you look at these people who are being rescued, when you watch people crying out for that kind of people, who will go back eventually with their homes gone and trying to start over, those are times when I think [prayer] around the nation and elsewhere can be a great contribution to us.

Presently, pray real hard!

On Sunday, you put out a statement on behalf of the U.S. bishops’ conference in which you said, “In the next couple of days, we will share more about the best ways to assist those in the Gulf region with material needs based on the latest information we can gather.”

Can you tell us something about what you’re doing to try to gather that information?

The bishops’ conference in general, when you have these major disasters, has a collections committee chair, as well as the chairs that deal with local development. They’ll work on it, and reach a conclusion about what can be done, and what the national church and dioceses might do.

I feel very pleased by that, but, I have to tell you the truth, I also feel kind of awkward. Whatever they decide to do, I’m the one who’s going to receive some of the benefit. I’d like to see it happening more generally.

By the way, Houston is being hit really hard, but so is Corpus Christi, and Victoria, and other places. Now, as we’re watching Harvey, I’m really getting concerned about Louisiana.

The forecast calls for rain through Wednesday, right?

Yes, and it’s raining cats and dogs right now in Houston. We’ve already had about 36, 38 inches in the last two days, more or less. We’re used to a lot of rain, but what’s happening is cosmic. Rain on top of rain, the bayous can’t take that, so we’ve got to pray.

I always say, pray for an end to the rain, and then pray for a resilient people to not lose patience. My pastors have shown remarkable patience and resilience, and I talked to them yesterday. It’s a great sign of a shepherd. I want our people to do the same, notwithstanding that some of them are in terrible, terrible positions.

Our first prayer is for immediate help, which is being provided slowly, and then we’ll get to it when Harvey has its necessary demise someplace else, hopefully into nothingness.

On Sunday, you issued a statement to parishioners telling them to stay safe and not worry about getting to Mass. I’m sure, though, that some people were able to get to Mass. What’s your read on what the mood was? What are people feeling?

I think the mood is resilient. Two pastors told me very few came, but there were others who said it was packed. One pastor told me that at the parish’s first Mass they only had 300, but the second Mass had 400 or 500 people.

I asked him, ‘How did they get in??’ Right now in Houston, you just can’t get from here to there. I can’t leave the seminary because it’s all blocked off by flooding, a mile down the road on one side and a half-mile on the other. I think that’s true with most parishes. That turnout is a great sign of faith, and I was honored to hear it, though I was also nervous for those poor people.

The people in Houston come from every nation, race and tongue, they’re deeply devoted, and also devoted to their community. I thought that was beautiful, even though I didn’t necessarily want people to come yesterday because I was so worried about their safety.

That’s never a step a Catholic bishop takes lightly, is it – advising people not to come to Sunday Mass. It really puts an exclamation point on how dramatic the situation is, doesn’t it?

Yes, and ‘dramatic’ is not an overstated word at this point.

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