Bright and early on Sunday morning, 20 people in our group join families and friends in St. Bernard’s Parish at Our Lady of Prompt Succor, Catholic Church and Gethsemane Evangelical Lutheran Church of America for Palm Sunday worship. The people of the Catholic parish embraced students and asked them stand to be introduced in worship for all to meet. The students were even included in the liturgy having been invited to bring the gifts to the Altar. If this were not overwhelming enough, the president of the parish invited our entire group for dinner sometime this week. What a reception!
Gethsemane ELCA was alive and energetic. This congregation had just taken the tent (where they had worshipped since Katrina destroyed the church) down the day before. Fully ensconced in a new sanctuary, the congregation checked on each other, sang joyfully together, shared the sacraments of Eucharist and baptism. All in all, it was a wonderful, welcoming experience. Rebirth from the devastation of Katrina and new life found through the willing and helpful hands of volunteers who enter and leave this community week after week.
After church, we took a group picture, loaded the bus and headed to the French Quarter. Wow, what a ride it was into the Quarter! We divided up into our five teams and headed out to find places to eat to enjoy the real New Orleans cuisine. Many enjoyed different types of dishes and get-to-know you discussions over lunch. We were on strict schedule to get back so after enjoying a beignet (a deep fried doughy, yet crispy treat with lots of powdered sugar) we all headed back onto the bus and then back to Camp Hope.
On the way to Camp Hope, our bus was able to drive through the 9th Ward area–an area where nothing is left standing anymore, but tall green grass. (We heard later that night that Bill Clinton and Brad Pitt were in the 9th Ward earlier that day with students!)
After a hardy dinner in the cafeteria, we had an orientation meeting to St. Bernard Parish. John Boothe, a local older gentleman, shared his experiences–a powerful message we will carry with us as we begin our work today!
Here are a few questions we continue to ask ourselves:
Why are certain areas of the city restored and others not, even two years later?
How can we contribute when we live so far away?
How have people survived with this kind of devistation in their face everyday?
What can we learn from these survivors? How can we take their spirit of faith and hope back with us to Illinois?