(Soundbite of solemn hymn)
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
We have the good fortune to talk to you on Ash Wednesday. Was it hard to write this one, given the state of the city right now?
Archbishop ALFRED C. HUGHES (New Orleans): Not really. Because, you know, ashes are a symbol of our mortality, and Katrina brought home to us our mortality. Up until now, we've been focused a great deal on the physical recovery, humanitarian needs, basic pastoral needs. This is a time now for us to look at the moral and spiritual dimensions of what God is asking of us.
NORRIS: Father, I've been here for a week now, and I've talked to many people who say that they're leaning on things, that they have crutches in their life that weren't there before. Sometimes it's alcohol, sometimes it's cigarettes, sometimes it's food. Does that worry you?
Archbishop HUGHES: Yes. Any substitute for God becomes an idol in our lives, an addictive. We need to be inwardly free to acknowledge God and to become positive, cooperative partners with Him.
NORRIS: Do you see evidence of that here, that people are coping in ways that aren't quite healthy?
Archbishop HUGHES: Yes, I see that happening. And I see positives. I see both there, lights and shadows. And my posture is to point to the lights and encourage the lights and to help people to resist the shadows.
NORRIS: So many of your parishioners are trying to make sense of this. How do you advise them when they, you know, they look skyward and they ask God, Why? How could you do this to us?
Archbishop HUGHES: My sense is that many of the people, I would say most of the people, ask that question out of faith rather than because they're calling faith into question. In other words, it's faith seeking understanding rather than saying I can't believe anymore because this has happened. The sacrifices that people made, even people who had lost their own homes and possessions, I've seen their forgetting their own situation and becoming concentrated on what needed to be done. And reopening schools was a very important part of helping families experience some degree of normalcy.
NORRIS: I'm wondering if you're particularly concerned about the lasting effects of Katrina on a generation of children in Louisiana, and specifically in New Orleans.
Archbishop HUGHES: I'm always concerned about the children, but I'm not concerned that we can't turn what was difficult into good. I look back on my own experience growing up in the post-Depression period. My family developed and focused on what was critically important, kept us together, kept us focused on what was life-giving. And that has stood me in wonderful stead for facing Katrina. I hope that we can do the same thing for this generation of children.
NORRIS: Archbishop Hughes, thank you so much for talking with us.
Archbishop HUGHES: You're welcome, Michele. Good to be with you.
NORRIS: Alfred C. Hughes is the Archbishop of New Orleans.
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