'The Church is best in crisis' - A diocese after the hurricane

A Pillar interview, Part Two

The Diocese of Lake Charles was hit by two record-setting hurricanes in 2020: Hurricane Laura in August, and Hurricane Delta in October. The storms caused billions in damage across Southwestern Louisiana, and left churches destroyed.

In part one of a two-part interview, Bishop Glen Provost talked about what it means to prioritize the mission of recovery. In part two, below, the bishop told The Pillar why prayer is central to his life, and how the experience of crisis can catalyze renewal in the Church.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Read part one here.

You have mentioned, Bishop, the importance of going “back to basics” during recovery from these hurricanes. What do you mean?

You know, it’s a funny thing. The Church is always its best when it’s in crisis. When it’s being attacked — better put — when it’s being attacked. And that’s a natural attack, as well as other kinds.

And so I’m talking about pastoral care, and about being with people, and bringing them the sacraments.

It seems that a pastor might find being with people who are recovering their lives might be so much more life-giving than a lot of the administrative work that often occupies his time—

Yes! That’s just what I’m talking about! That is just what I am talking about!

I mean, the peripheral stuff, you know, being concerned about mechanics and programs and processes. Now, this is fine and good when you have the luxury of time, but you don’t have that when you’re in crisis, you have to concern yourself with the basics. 

And that starts with the sacraments, and that also includes religious education, because our people just have to be fed, spiritually and intellectually.

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Is there a lesson there for the Church when she’s not recovering from a hurricane?

Oh yes. You know, this has just been my experience as a pastor. I can’t speak for other pastors and their experiences, but at the time of a natural disaster, like a hurricane, there was just this craving — this yearning — for normalcy.

I would have never thought of canceling Masses. Never. I mean, we had Mass even though the air conditioning was not on and the electricity was off. I mean, you make do. You just make do.

And I think there are graces from that. I mean, this what we preach. This what we believe: It’s in suffering that we can find that grace is working, you know?

[Ed. note: While the Diocese of Lake Charles suspended public Masses in late March 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic, public Masses resumed on May 1, 2020. Lake Charles was among the first U.S. dioceses to resume public Masses, more than three months before the arrival of Hurricane Laura.]

How has this hurricane recovery period impacted vocations in your diocese?

You know, oddly enough, I detect that there has been a kind of resolve, a kind of renewed resolve in the area of vocations. I think most dioceses, from what I’m hearing from my vocation direction, there has been a bit of a… a slight falling off [in 2020].

But this year we have sent three young men to the seminary, and we already have three or four who are interested and have contacted us. And when I go for confirmations, I ask about who is considering the priesthood, and I take down the names, and I give them to the vocations director, and he follows up. And the priests do the same in the parishes, some are very diligent about it.

So, you know, we are certainly not at replacement level, but we certainly are keeping it in the forefront. Let’s put it that way.

Bishop, you seem to have a well-organized and systematic approach to leadership during this recovery process. What has been critical for your own endurance in this mission?

Well, of course, prayer. You know, I have committed myself to a daily holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament for years and years as a priest and as a bishop. I certainly think prayer is of the utmost importance, a non-negotiable — an absolute non-negotiable. That, to me, is very important. 

The celebration of Mass every day, doesn't matter what the circumstances are. There are obviously times when that's impossible because of illness or whatever. But, you know, the sacraments are essential. So that feeds you, it gives you courage, helps you to continue. 

I also have found very supportive and encouraging the outreach which I have received from my brother priests and bishops from other dioceses. They reach out to you, they write, they call, they email.

My classmates from the North American College in Rome got together after the storm and all contacted me, and were very generous, helpful, and supportive. That was true of lay friends — old parishioners of mine, from my days as a pastor in Lafayette.

I’ll tell you one story which touched me a great deal. When Hurricanes Laura and Delta, many parishes in various dioceses came to assist. There was one particular parish in New Orleans that sent a significant contribution to our diocese. And I was very appreciative, and I went to New Orleans, and I was visiting with the pastor and expressing my gratitude to him.

I told the pastor I wanted to personally thank him and his parishioners for their generosity to the recovery. To which a laywoman who was there said to me: “Well, we can’t forget what you all in Southwest Louisiana did for us after Katrina.”

And that’s the spirit. That’s the spirit. They want to help to — they help us, we helped them. I remember Katrina. I was a pastor in Lafayette. And we did everything we could to help the displaced. And when it got to our turn, they were here distributing meals, from many dioceses, but most especially the dioceses in our state. And that’s so greatly appreciated.

Read part one of this interview here.