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Christmas Pilgrimage to Gulf Coast Area

While most of us were enjoying annual family get-togethers, the latest holiday release at the local movie theater, or vacations in posh resorts, a group from Blessed Trinity boarded a bus the morning after Christmas and headed for a weeks stay at the still devastated Gulf Coast area.

Seven BT students (Katie Birth, Rosanne Cannizzo, Mary Beth Gizinski, Brendan Quinn, Courtney Quinn, Brian Vandemark, and Jesse Yaun), BT Chaplain Fr. Kevin Peek, along with a student (Alexandra Liddy) and alumna (Alicia Miles) from Our Lady of Mercy High School spent the week following Christmas in Waveland and Ocean Springs, MS, working to restore a family home and a local Catholic church, St. Thomas the Apostle. The group also supplied and stocked a food and clothing distribution center for those in need.

Here is an account of the group’s trip by Fr. Peek:

“Starting was the hardest part, as once you alight from the seven hour bus ride from Atlanta; it is difficult to figure out where to begin.

Four months ago the Gulf coast was rocked by Hurricane Katrina, inflicting chaotic destruction on an area about ninety miles wide and, on average, a mile or two inland.  Not to say that the storm damage did not extend further in, for it surely does, but the greatest damage is in the immediate beach areas where a tsunami-like surge brought forty or more feet of water over the affected areas, then dragged much of what was there back out to sea in a massive undertow.  No bricks, no boards, and no infrastructure remain in many areas to mark where houses and businesses alike once stood; only the lonely pads of barren foundations dotted with tents and FEMA trailers, often still without electricity or water designate the once stately and time-tested oceanfront landscape.  

Bay St. Louis calmly laps again at the shore, silently refusing to acknowledge the treasures concealed and the lives buried beneath her surface. Pine trees, knocked down from the waves or dying from the salt water, are scattered and tossed haphazard, like sticks in the woods; while the stronger sturdier hardwoods were prematurely stripped of their leaves and left tangled with sheets, shirts, siding, and any other debris-turned-flotsam in the retreating waves. 

The place looks like the storm just hit yesterday; but tell that to those who live there and it tears through them like a knife through sails, killing any forward momentum, if only for an instant. Four months they have been hard at work restoring their communities: clearing roads, collecting valuables, and recovering the dead. To them, the situation seems so much better and full of hope then that fateful week before Labor Day, even as they lead the newest volunteers into the few houses still standing in that region, eight inches deep in sewage, strewn with furniture, appliances tossed on their sides—untouched since the day of the storm. Between battling with insurance adjusters, dividing up FEMA proceeds, and staring down price-gouging contractors and under-bidding speculators, the average family, after scrounging for food and supplies and a place to live, is left with little money yet to pay for repairs, and fewer crews to actually complete them.  Thus, the recovery and repair is moving at a much slower rate than one might expect. 

But there is great hope! For into this natural microcosm of hell descends bus after truck of church groups, college and high school students, and general public volunteers, who simply for three squares and a cot to sleep on (and a shower would be nice!) have come from Portland, Los Angeles, Detroit, Augusta (and now even Blessed Trinity Catholic High School!) to help carry out whatever needs to be done. These volunteers are treated as saviors and heroes to those who continue to struggle; for so much can be done in so little time by a group of committed and unified individuals who strive to love and serve, looking for nothing in return. The families we helped were overwhelmed at our sacrifice, and expressed their joy and thanksgiving often. We certainly benefited from our trip as well, coming back with a greater awareness of the power of the storm, a deeper gratitude for the blessings we have, and a more passionate commitment to letting people know about the situation that continues to plague the Gulf coast. If you, or someone or some group you know, has any time available to give to working in the Ocean Springs or Waveland, MS area and would like information on how to make contacts there, please contact us!  And please pray for all who carry on in the aftermath; we cannot forget or neglect our brothers and sisters in our own backyard….”