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Global Christian Leaders Empathize with U.S. in Hurricane Rita's Wake

Christian representatives from around the world expressed their solidarity with the American people and said they await a generous response from the country best equipped to serve the poor.

Global Christian Leaders Empathize with U.S. in Hurricane Rita's Wake

WASHINGTON – In the shadow of Hurricane Katrina and the wake of Rita, Christian representatives from around the world expressed their solidarity with the American people and said they await a generous response from the country best equipped to serve the poor.

“Africa’s churches express our solidarity and sadness at the Katrina destruction that has visited the people of this country,” said the Rev. Mvume Dandala, General Secretary of the All African Council of Churches, during a press conference called by the National Council of Churches U.S.A.

The conference, which featured the general secretaries of nearly all of the world’s regional ecumenical bodies, was planned as a way for international leaders to evaluate U.S. policies and actions. Participants discussed a wide array of critical issues, such as the Iraq war, poverty relief, Millennium Development Goals, the trade embargo in Cuba, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, most of the conference revolved around Katrina and Rita.

In addressing poverty and disease, Dandala said Africans can easily relate with the victims of Katrina.

“New Orleans is something we live in everyday,” he said at the National Press Club in Washington. “Our own Katrina is HIV/AIDS.”

He added that the African churches are paying particular attention to the Hurricane response, since “we sense that the response to the fate of the poor, who is in majority of African descent, will reflect how this country responds to the challenges of African countries.”

Gerard A. J. Granado, the General Secretary of the Caribbean Conference of Churches, also offered his “prayerful empathy for those in the states battered by Katrina and those that are now facing the onslaught of Rita.”

“I use the word ‘empathy’ rather than ‘sympathy,’” he said. “In the Caribbean, we are quite accustomed to this kind of battering on an annual basis.”

Looking back at the devastation wrought on the island of Granada last year by Hurricane Ivan – a storm “identical in size to the one approaching Texas now,” the general secretary said he looks toward a day when the United States and Caribbean can work together to battle these storms.

“In the Caribbean, we haven’t much to offer to the United States in terms of material, financial assets,” he said. “But we have resources in terms of expertise and experience in dealing with these disasters. I hope that the Caribbean and U.S. can get together in a joint venture for this issue of hurricanes and natural disaster.”

Meanwhile, Karen Hamilton, General Secretary of the Canadian Council of Churches, echoed the words of concern and grief, and urged Americans to “respond with alacrity” at this fragile moment.

“New Orleans is a city that many Canadians visit. So many of us have been there and walked those streets that are now underwater,” she said. “We encourage our American brothers and sisters to respond with alacrity, having the resources in this country to do so.”

Rev. Dr. Robert Edgar, General Secretary of the NCC USA, agreed that the nation must respond to the needs of Katrina as well as the needs forthcoming from Hurricane Rita.

“We have responded to the immediate needs of Hurricane Katrina … and we will respond with generosity and love and compassion to the impact of Rita,” he said.

However, Edgar explained that a greater problem lies beneath the Hurricane-wrecked surface: poverty and inequality.

“Everyday on the news we saw the faces of poverty and issues of racism,” he said. “Perhaps it is time for us to … address the 37 million Americans who are below the poverty level - 13 million of whom are children - and the 47 million Americans who have no healthcare.

"We are hopeful that the recognition that poverty is an issue in the United States even though the Republicans and Democrats have not been able to talk about it,” he concluded. “We come to the conclusion that God cares about poor people and we think it’s time for our churches to take the lead in being prophetic to ease the pain for the poor.”

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