Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Rebuilding New Orleans, City of Hope

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Rebuilding New Orleans, City of Hope

Article excerpt

As they grieve, my family and friends fret about whether New Orleans will exist after the waters recede. I think it will. In fact, I think it needs to, and not only for its own sake. I'm hopeful, in part, because this is not the first disaster New Orleans has endured. Indeed, one could write the city's history from the perspective of its fires, floods and plagues.

I am also hopeful because New Orleanians themselves are marked by an almost unfounded, even absurd hope. How else to explain the city's early 18th-century foundation on a God-forsaken bend in the river and its expansions into below sea-level swamps? How else to explain the tolerance of sometimes obscene racial, social, economic and educational divides? New Orleans should have succumbed long ago, if not to natural calamity then to social catastrophe. That it has not yet done so, I attribute to hope.

To be sure, there is a morbid side to New Orleanians. Many of them turn first to the obituaries in their newspapers or discuss hospital admissions the way people elsewhere flip to the comics or follow the stock market.

However, New Orleanians can be hopeful because believers in this most Catholic-Christian of cities know that life follows death. Its economy and geography depend on this resurrection. Oil, the region's financial lifeblood, derives from ancient extinctions. Its unimaginably rich estuaries have been cobbled together from land cast off by other states and delivered by the Mississippi River. Similarly, I think that hope will yet again drive its citizens to rebuild the structures and bridge the divides.

Hope also trumps despair because citizens have figured devastation into their plans. It's always lurking, in the Water and in the history. People live in New Orleans on the condition that they agree to devastation's possibility. …

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