Black church rises from the ravages of Hurricane Katrina
A small community triumph over the consequences of Hurricane Katrina was embodied on Sunday in the Palm Sunday celebrations at the historically black Catholic Church of St Augustine, New Orleans.
The celebration took place only two weeks after the church was closed amid protests over post-hurricane budget cutbacks that would have meant it being submerged within a larger neighbouring parish.
"What a historic morning for us to gather," said Archbishop Alfred Hughes, who returned to celebrate Mass after re-consecrated St Augustine on Saturday.
The archbishop went on to say that he would examine the parish's progress after 18 months to determine if it could continue to avoid consolidation.
According to Associated Press, Archbishop Hughes agreed to reopen St Augustine after negotiating with parishioners who had protested its closure.
The Church, founded in 1841 by slaves and free people of colour, is one of the oldest black parishes in the United States. The decision on its future significantly depends upon how the archdiocese will deal with 84 million US dollars worth of uninsured losses from Hurricane Katrina.
The natural catastrophe hit into US Gulf Coast on 29 August 2005, causing death and destruction in its wake. The population of a once-vibrant city, New Orleans, home of black music and culture, has more or less been halved as a result.
"I intend to be a regular now and support the church here," said Gordon Cagnolitti, a New Orleans firefighter who described himself as multi-denominational. "I go to several churches, but my son and grandchildren go here and I will, too, from now on."
Under the plans announced earlier this year, the church building would still be used for services, but parish functions were to be consolidated with neighbouring St. Peter Claver.
But the church had not reckoned with the deep feeling of the parishioners. Demonstrations sprang up, and a small group of protesters shuttered themselves in the church rectory three weeks ago.
The parishioners have set twelve goals to meet during the next 18 months, Archbishop Hughes said. Among other things, they require the addition of from 300 to 400 families, the institution of regular religious education and a balanced budget by 1 October 2006.