Despite hurricanes, oil spill, Miss. Catholics retain hope, says bishop

Bishop Roger Morin Pilot photo/ Courtesy Diocese of Biloxi

Bishop Roger Morin is the bishop of the Diocese of Biloxi, Miss., a diocese along the Gulf Coast which was greatly impacted by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, including damage to several churches and Catholic schools. Following the hurricane, the diocese began a recovery effort, which still continues five years after the storm.

Prior to coming to Biloxi in March 2009, Bishop Morin served as vicar general and moderator of the curia for the Archdiocese of New Orleans. He was serving in Louisiana when Katrina came ashore, and assisted in hurricane relief during his tenure there.

He was ordained a bishop in 2003 after having served as a priest in the Archdiocese of New Orleans since his ordination in 1971.

Bishop Morin is a native of Dracut, Mass. He graduated from St. John Seminary, and was ordained to the priesthood in his home parish, the former St. Therese in Dracut.

The Pilot spoke to Bishop Morin about the impact of Hurricane Katrina five years after the storm came ashore and the progress of rebuilding efforts.

Q: A lot of public attention from Katrina has focused on New Orleans. How has the hurricane impacted Mississippi?

A: There was tremendous devastation in coastal Mississippi. The Diocese of Biloxi begins at the Louisiana border and extends all the way to Alabama. About 26 miles of it is coastline, so Ground Zero for the storm was really around this side of the border. It particularly wiped out stretches of the property along the coast. When you drive along Beach Boulevard (U.S. Highway 90) now, you see stretches where there is nothing but vacant land or slabs where houses had been. The flood damage was most extensive from the beach front north towards Interstate-10, and then the land elevation is a little bit higher. Beyond that, there was wind damage. The storm made land in Mississippi. New Orleans dodged the bullet on this one because what looked like a Category 5 or a 4 heading for New Orleans veered off a bit and hit Mississippi. The signs of the devastation are apparent even though there has been a tremendous amount of rebuilding over the years.

Q: In many ways, public attention has shifted away from Katrina and is now focused on the impact the oil spill is having on coastal waters and land. However, the Gulf Coast is still dealing with the impact left by Katrina. What still needs to be done, especially on the Mississippi coast?

A: We did recovery work and disaster relief. The Church was a key player in terms of helping individuals and families. In terms of emergency disaster relief, the Church's activity was extensive. That was thanks to the special collection the bishops took up in churches in the United States, and a second collection -- which was unheard of -- in order to help with the costs of rebuilding. The human services aspect, that obligation we feel to do the corporal works of mercy, was pretty well met and was downsizing over the last year and a half.

When the oil spill came along, we had another significant economic impact in terms of employment and businesses along the Gulf Coast because of the fishing and seafood industry. Those in the seafood industry were not allowed to take out their boats, so those who supplied them found their businesses drying up. The damage to the shoreline has not been that evident. I have driven along the coast, and while there were some reports of oil slick hitting the beach sand, there was not a great deal of oil hitting the beach. We have resort areas along the beach, and you had people who had reservations and were planning vacations. The media representations of it made it sound as if the Mississippi beaches were covered with this oil slick, so people started canceling. In some places, 40-50 percent of business had dropped off. It was the second significant impact in a five-year period of time.

Q: How has the Catholic community in Mississippi and around the nation responded to the Diocese of Biloxi and the impact of Katrina?

A: The response to Katrina has been an exemplary outpouring of generosity, both in terms of the collections that were taken up nationwide and also significant contributions of Catholic Charities USA. In both instances, the local charitable empathies affiliated with the Church were able to do a tremendous amount of work with the financial assistance of the American Catholic community. National groups make significant grants because what happened was the total amount of insurance coverage that was in place was only a fraction of what was needed to make the local Church whole again. There has been an outpouring of volunteer services. We will, in September, dedicate a new church in Waveland, St. Clare, which had to be completely rebuilt from the ground up. In a cluster of parishes more towards the Louisiana border, we have a groundbreaking coming up. This has been a process and a year of dedications, rededications, and groundbreaking. The people have a marvelous energy in terms of continuing to maintain their commitment to rebuilding. St. Clare's will have a beautiful new church a number of feet off the ground because it is not far from the coast, and so will St. Thomas (the Apostle in Long Beach). The elevation where it is being built is significantly higher than the beachfront. We will not be totally rebuilt, because as has been necessary in New Orleans, schools have been consolidated where there might have been two, three or four elementary schools. The new construction is one elementary parochial school that takes the children from several parishes. In some cases where there have been two parish churches, there will be a new church with a new name. There has been some of that very difficult process of merging and coming up with a new entity and having people accept the fact that the place that was church to them no longer exists.

Q: Given Katrina and the oil spill, what still needs to be done in Mississippi as far as relief work is concerned?

A: Now they are talking more about the impact in terms of mental health and the need for counseling and supportive services. People are just finding themselves stressed out. They are pressed to the point of where they were just on the verge of getting everything back in working order, and all of the sudden you find yourself with a new challenge, and it's an economic challenge. I think there is a tremendous amount of optimism here. Everybody is talking about how much hope there is. We dedicated a new food bank just a few weeks ago that was made possible from some of the gifts we had received from Hurricane Katrina so that we have a warehouse where we keep supplies necessary for doing immediate disaster relief and also works as a warehouse for social services agencies, who at these times are seeing more people coming in asking for help with food assistance because of the problems with unemployment. The emergency assistance is a little bit more critical right now in terms of financial and food assistance. We have a good St. Vincent de Paul pharmacy here in Biloxi that not only serves the city of Biloxi but people in the diocese from neighboring cities and towns. There is an increase in the number of people who can't afford their medications. You have some low-income people and you have some poor people and you try to do as much as you possibly can for them. We take rebuilding projects as they come and we are doing as much as we possibly can do.

Q: How long do you expect recovery from Katrina to take before it will be fully accomplished?

A: From all that I have read, even the public jurisdictions who have been eligible for (FEMA) funding have found the projection is another five years. I remember when we started off in the immediate post-Katrina days in New Orleans, in our naivete we thought a year or two. They are five years after Katrina, and so are we, and not everything is done.

Cardinal beatifies 22-year-old Romanian as 'martyr to chastity'

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- A 22-year-old Romanian peasant has taken a step closer to sainthood as a "martyr to chastity," six decades after she was murdered ...

Maryland attorney general will review church records on child sex abuse

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- In a Sept. 24 letter to the clergy of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Archbishop William E. Lori informed priests and deacons that the ...

People helping people is what attracted actor to 'God Friended Me'

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Television audiences may recall seeing actor Joe Morton as Eli Rowan Pope, the father of professional Washington fixer Olivia Pope, ...

Pa. bishops support creating fund to compensate survivors of sex abuse

PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- The bishops of Pennsylvania's eight Roman Catholic dioceses are supporting creation of an independent fund to compensate survivors ...

CRS sells fair trade coffee, supporting Mexican farmers and land

Baltimore, Md., Sep 24, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Catholic Relief Services is now offering fair trade coffee beans that will benefit local farming communities ...

The Jesuit who survived the KGB

Vilnius, Lithuania, Sep 24, 2018 CNA.- When Pope Francis visited a former KGB building in Vilnius, Lithuania Sept. 23, Archbishop Sigitas Tamkevicius ...

Next step toward artificial reproduction violates human fundamentals, ethicist warns

Washington D.C., Sep 25, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Artificial human reproduction appears to be on the horizon with Japanese scientists’ claim to ...

Update: Scandals create outrage, but there is time for conversion, pope says

TALLINN, Estonia (CNS) -- In what is probably the least religious country in Europe, Pope Francis said he is surprised by how many people hold firm to ...

Catholic leaders oppose administration's plan to limit green cards

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic leaders are speaking out against a Trump administration proposed rule announced Sept. 22 that would deny green cards to legal ...

Head of Georgetown Prep urges renewed commitment to being 'men for others'

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In a letter to the school community, the president of an all-boys Jesuit high school in suburban Washington emphasized the schools' ...

Today is 'hour of the laity,' Archbishop Gomez tells Encuentro delegates

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Hispanic Catholic leaders are living an important moment in the history of the Catholic church in the U.S. and are called to ...

Stay close to the suffering, forgive one another, pope tells Latvians

AGLONA, Latvia (CNS) -- What would Mary do? was the question Pope Francis, in effect, asked Latvian Catholics gathered at their nation's popular Marian ...

Joy, hope contagious for Encuentro participants as they discern priorities

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Joy, hope, energy and a spirit of continued collaboration are contagious among the participants of the Fifth National Encuentro, ...

Update: Pope in Lithuania: Don't let anti-Semitism, hatred resurge

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- Outside the former KGB headquarters in Vilnius, Pope Francis ended a day of paying homage to victims of totalitarianism and ...

God is patient, even with failures, pope tells young Lithuanians

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- Meeting young Lithuanians in Vilnius, Pope Francis said he wanted a relaxed conversation, like they were sitting in a pub ...

Update: Vatican signs provisional agreement with China on naming bishops

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- For the first time in decades, all of the Catholic bishops in China are in full communion with the pope, the Vatican announced. Pope ...

Find strength in tolerance, solidarity, pope tells Lithuanians

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- In Lithuania, a nation that experienced invasions, atrocities and persecution, Pope Francis began his visit with a plea to ...

Ospino: Encuentro reflects 'energy, maturity' of a church 'here to stay'

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- The thousands of Hispanic Catholic ministry leaders gathered in Texas for the Fifth National Encuentro shared views on the maturity ...

N.J. cardinal won't attend synod, asks to remain home at 'time of crisis'

NEWARK, N.J. (CNS) -- Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark told the people of his archdiocese Sept. 21 that Pope Francis has granted his request that he ...

Detroit Archdiocese welcomes investigation into Michigan dioceses

DETROIT (CNS) -- Michigan's attorney general has opened an investigation into the handling of sexual abuse by clergy in all of Michigan's seven Catholic ...

Catholics believe in God but 'don't believe in us,' Miami archbishop says

MIAMI (CNS) -- The crisis the Catholic Church is facing is not "a crisis of faith" or "mainly about a crisis of sexual abuse by clergy," but is "a crisis ...

Update: Disney animator says grounding in Catholic schools led to success

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (CNS) -- Ron Clements is a renowned animator, screenwriter and producer-director of award-winning Disney films, including the blockbuster ...

#WhyImCatholic movement aims to share hope at difficult time for church

CHICAGO (CNS) -- Catholic Extension has launched a new social media campaign called #WhyImCatholic to offer "hope and unity" for Catholics by inviting ...

Continue to be an evangelizing church, nuncio tells Encuentro delegates

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Quoting from Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel," Archbishop Christophe Pierre encouraged Hispanic Catholic ...

Encuentro opens with procession, papal message, prayers for abuse victims

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- A video message from Pope Francis and a procession of Encuentro crosses representing all of the participating episcopal regions ...

Retired Green Bay auxiliary bishop failed to report abuse, withdraws from ministry

Green Bay, Wis., Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Bishop Robert Morneau, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Green Bay, has withdrawn from public ministry saying ...

Dolan 'impatient' waiting for apostolic visitation in response to McCarrick

New York City, N.Y., Sep 20, 2018 CNA.- The Archbishop of New York said Thursday that while he has confidence in the way Pope Francis is handling the ...

Two more Chilean bishops step down in wake of abuse crisis

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis accepted the resignations of two more Chilean bishops, bringing to seven the number of bishops who have stepped down ...

Celebration of the Priesthood dinner raises over $1.8 million

BOSTON -- A record 1,700 people attended the 10th annual Celebration of the Priesthood dinner to raise funds for the Clergy Health and Retirement Trust ...

Lawrence parish helps community cope with gas explosion aftermath

LAWRENCE -- Volunteers at St. Patrick Church's Cor Unum Meal Center were serving dinner when multiple natural gas explosions and fires broke out in homes ...

Ceremony, Mass kick off St. Augustine Chapel bicentennial

SOUTH BOSTON -- St. Augustine Chapel and Cemetery began its year-long bicentennial celebration on the weekend of Sept. 14-16 with tours, special Masses, ...

Mass. Knights install new officers

The Massachusetts State Council Knights of Columbus recently held its Installation of State Officers at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Canton with ...

Deal will keep Sancta Maria Nursing Facility open

CAMBRIDGE -- Sancta Maria Nursing Facility announced Sept. 17 that it has negotiated a comprehensive operational contract with Advocate Healthcare Management ...

From Cardinal Seán's blog

As I mentioned in my preface to last week's blog, this week and last, I have been in Rome for meetings related to the work of the Pontifical Commission ...

N.Y. Archdiocese names judge as independent reviewer on abuse protocols

NEW YORK (CNS) -- New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan has named a former federal judge to study archdiocesan policies and procedures with respect to sexual ...

U.S. reports poverty declines, but agencies finding needs remain great

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The good news from the U.S. Census Bureau Sept. 12 was that the poverty rate dropped for the third straight year in 2017 and median ...

Class-action lawsuit filed against eight Pennsylvania dioceses

PITTSBURGH (CNS) -- A class-action lawsuit was filed Sept. 17 against eight Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania demanding the dioceses provide proof that ...

Apostolic visitor outlines plans for expansion at Medjugorje shrine

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- The Polish archbishop tasked with overseeing Bosnia-Herzegovina's Medjugorje shrine has outlined plans for expansion, including ...

Pope names administrator as Indian bishop investigated for alleged rape

MUMBAI, India (CNS) -- Pope Francis has accepted the request of an Indian bishop accused of raping a nun to be relieved of his duties during the investigation. In ...

In letters to German cardinal, retired pope defends way he stepped down

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Retired Pope Benedict XVI expressed his displeasure with the way a German cardinal publicly criticized his stepping down as pontiff, ...

Thousands of Hispanics expected in Texas for Encuentro summit

Fort Worth, Texas, Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- As many as 3,000 Catholics of Hispanic background are expected in Texas this week for the National V Encuentro, ...

Church plans third-party abuse reporting system, code of conduct

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pledging to "heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us," the U.S. bishops' Administrative Committee Sept. 19 ...

Be grateful to parents, never insult them, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Honoring mothers and fathers means being grateful for the gift of life and Christians should never insult anyone's parents, Pope ...

Canadian cardinal: Women should help screen, train priest applicants

Poznan, Poland, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- Increasing the role of women in screening and training priests is among the steps that should be taken to prevent future ...

Vatican delegation will travel to China this month to finalize agreement, Chinese newspaper reports

Beijing, China, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- A newspaper tied to the Chinese Communist Party reported Tuesday that a delegation of Vatican officials will head to ...

Media reporting Vatican-China agreement could be signed in late September

HONG KONG (CNS) -- The long-awaited Sino-Vatican agreement on the nomination of bishops is expected to be signed in September, reported several media ...

Update: Irish singer Bono calls pope 'extraordinary man for extraordinary times'

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Bono, the lead singer of the Irish band U2, said he told Pope Francis that in Ireland "it looks as though the abusers are being ...