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One Year After the Storm

In a Small Louisiana Chapel, a Plea for Peace is Answered

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Inside a quiet chapel on the outskirts of New Orleans, in a town of Dumpster-laden yards and temporary, blue-tarp roofs, people have been coming to adore Jesus, to ask His assistance, and to give Him thanks.

It's a small chapel. A new chapel, built by the loving hands of volunteers — some of whom hadn't even completed restoring their own hurricane-damaged homes.

When the organizers of this Eucharistic Adoration chapel had a dinner party earlier this year to choose a name for the chapel, the vote was a landslide. It would be named for The Divine Mercy.

The Lord once said to St. Faustina, "Tell aching mankind to snuggle close to My merciful Heart, and I will fill it with peace" (Diary of St. Faustina, 1074).

Certainly, this region needs a lot of things. Money. Strong leadership. Resolve. Patience. And a little luck. But it also needs peace, through Jesus, The Divine Mercy.

Whipsawed one year ago on Aug. 29 by the winds and waters of Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans region continues to teeter between the opposing forces of ruin and renewal.

On one hand, crime rates have risen. Suicides are up. So are drug overdoses. The landscape remains heavily pockmarked with storm-ravaged neighborhoods. Millions of residents remain displaced. The healthcare industry is in shambles, with more than half of the doctors and three-fourths of the psychiatrists gone. And the region's future remains in question.

On the other hand, in addition to all the rebuilding efforts and other signs of a slow, but painful recovery, the area is undergoing a religious resurgence. Church attendance is up, many pastors say. A recent newspaper story reported how stores that sell religious articles are experiencing record sales.

People in the region are turning to the mercy of God like never before because, above all else, they realize He's their hope.

At Saint Benilde's Church, in Metairie, Louisiana, where the new Eucharistic Adoration chapel was built, such is the case. For years St. Benilde's has wanted to build such a chapel to help the community draw closer to our Lord. But it was only after the storm hit that such resolve was harnessed into action. On Divine Mercy Sunday, the chapel — created from existing space within the church — was opened.

"We see it as a symbol of hope," says Eris Khalil, a parishioner of St. Benilde's who helped lead the effort for the Divine Mercy Adoration Chapel. That is, she says, the hope that, with Christ by their side, peace and protection are possible.

"We definitely can't lose hope," says Eris, who herself was displaced by the hurricane. "I think this chapel will help many, many people rebuild their relationship with God. Despite everything, we all have a lot to be thankful for."

Eris, for one, first turned to the message and devotion of The Divine Mercy back in January of 2005, after a very rough five months. In August of 2004, her brother was killed in a car wreck. Five weeks later, her sister died from complications with diabetes. Then, in January of 2005, another sister died of cancer.

"I didn't know about Divine Mercy," says Eris, a lifelong Catholic who works as an aesthetician. "I found out about it through a holy card that I printed up and gave out at my sister's funeral. The holy card had The Divine Mercy image on it. I loved the image, but I didn't really know anything about it. But I soon found out what the image was all about. I learned how you can pray for the sick and the dying. Then, I read of how you can also pray for the dead.

"So I thought, 'I have a lot of catching up to do!' I had lost three people in five months, and I didn't know about the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy. So I prayed it and prayed it, and it gave me a lot of comfort."

Many graces have followed, she says, not least of which is the chapel itself, which now has 300 adorers.

The Rev. Pat Wattigny, pastor of St. Benilde's, credits his parish's devotion to Divine Mercy for keeping the confessionals occupied and for his parish's newfound closeness to Christ through Eucharistic Adoration.

"There has been a return to the sacraments, a return to prayer," he says. "I know some people are coming back to God to find solace and comfort in the midst of adversity and tragedy."

The desire of repentance is strong, too, he says. For penitents, he regularly recommends they pray the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy. "I do that for a couple of reasons," he says. "First, for those who do have the devotion, to deepen it. And for others who aren't familiar with it, to get them used to the Chaplet and the life and writings of St. Faustina."

Since the chapel opened, there is another grace that Fr. Wattigny can point to at St. Benilde's, a parish of nearly 1,800 families.

"I can tell you this much," says Fr. Wattigny. "We've been battling declining enrollment at the school for the past five years, but at the start of school yesterday, our enrollment was actually up from what it was last year. The first time in six years!

"I'll give the credit to the chapel," he says. "I'll give credit to the devotion that was given to us by our Lord."

In many ways, the new chapel and the hurricane will forever be intertwined, say the chapel's organizers. The hurricane, which killed nearly 1,900 people and caused an estimated $81.2 billion in damages, served as a reminder that mankind is not in control — that it cannot do it alone. And the chapel serves as a reminder that Christ is still alive, among us, waiting for us to turn to Him and accept the mercy He offers.

The chapel's centerpiece is a gold-plated Monstrance. A year ago, this Monstrance belonged to St. Raphael's Church, in Gentilly. The hurricane and its ensuing floodwaters wiped out St. Raphael's, which was located several miles from St. Benilde's.

The Monstrance was saved. Now, at St. Benilde's, Jesus is returning the favor.

Learn more about The Divine Mercy message and devotion.

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