“And Jesus wept.” Those who have visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial commemorating the victims, survivors and rescuers from the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing will recognize this briefest of New Testament verses (Jn. 11:35). It is represented in the iconic sculpture across the street from the National Memorial on the grounds of Saint Joseph Old Cathedral where the former rectory stood prior to the blast.
“And Jesus wept.” Jesus’ response is a consoling reminder that during times of deep sorrow and grief God is with us. We do not suffer alone. He has made our sufferings his own. He has tasted our tears. In becoming man, Jesus has fully embraced our humanity even suffering death with us and for us. Our suffering finds redemption and meaning in the mystery of the Cross and Resurrection, which bears within it the seed of unconquerable hope.
On May 19 and May 20, communities across central Oklahoma were ravaged by powerful and deadly tornadoes. At this writing, emergency responders, relief workers, counselors, chaplains, friends, neighbors and strangers are coming together to bring comfort and sustain hope where hope has been shaken. And Jesus still weeps. God is with us.
The outpouring of prayer, love and support from across our great state and from around the nation has been overwhelming. It is bringing comfort to those who have lost loved ones, suffered injuries and whose homes, businesses and properties have been damaged or destroyed.
Our Catholic community stands shoulder to shoulder with religious, government and volunteer organizations and agencies to assist in the emergency recovery efforts. Each has its different role in the response. Some are first responders. Others offer assistance with cleanup and with immediate needs such as temporary shelter, meals and clothing. Some help facilitate spiritual, physical and emotional healing. Still others focus on long-term needs in accessing community resources.
The emergency response efforts are still fluid and adapting to changing needs and circumstances. Our parish clergy and staff members in the affected areas have been engaged from the beginning. They have been contacting parishioners and assessing needs. Other Catholic organizations have mobilized as well. Catholic Charities, the Knights of Columbus and the St. Vincent de Paul Society have been reaching out and providing support in the various areas affected by these devastating storms. The Knights of Columbus have been available to assist with immediate need response. They have been incredible! In addition to addressing immediate needs and offering counseling, Catholic Charities and St. Vincent de Paul are offering long-term case management to help storm survivors rebuild their lives over the course of many months to come.
The Catholic response has not been merely from within Oklahoma. The day after the Moore tornado I received a telegram from Pope Francis assuring us of his prayers and he expressed his solidarity with us at his Wednesday general audience. I was also encouraged by the immediate response of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Charities USA. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the USCCB, quickly offered to authorize a special collection to assist with the Oklahoma tornado recovery effort. Many bishops have assured me that they will host a collection. The funds received through these collections in other dioceses will be administered by Catholic Charities USA, which has already been with us assisting in our coordination efforts. These funds will be used primarily for humanitarian assistance. Funds for specifically religious purposes, if necessary, will be made available through the USCCB.
We are fortunate that damage to our religious institutions has been minimal. Only Our Lady of Guadalupe Youth Camp (Camp OLOG) suffered significant damage – and that damage was only to certain buildings. We hope to begin camp on schedule. Storm damage at the camp reassured us that our safety procedures are sound; the cabins, which also serve as storm shelters for campers during the summers, soundly withstood the winds.
Many of us would like to do something right now to assist our suffering brothers and sisters. What can we do? Pray! Through prayer we are spiritually close to those who suffer and we sustain them in mysterious ways known only to God. We can contribute to the special archdiocesan relief collection that has been authorized for each parish. We can also contribute directly to Catholic Charities of Oklahoma City through their website. Volunteer opportunities are available through local community efforts. There will be need for many volunteers, but these have to be carefully coordinated. This is going to be a marathon, not a sprint.
We are never alone in our distress and suffering. Through the love and kindness of both neighbors and strangers Jesus is demonstrating his faithfulness, “Behold, I am with you always” (Mt. 28:20).