Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, issued a joint statement April 13.
“This Easter Monday began with the sad news that storms swept through multiple states in the South overnight, killing at least 19 people at the time of this statement across Mississippi, Georgia, Arkansas and South Carolina,” they said. “The weather also inflicted significant damage in Texas, Louisiana and West Virginia. Many people have suffered damage or loss of their homes.”
The death toll had climbed to 30 by mid-afternoon April 13.
“In the midst of these tragedies, we must reach out and offer assistance to those affected, especially those who are grieving the loss of loved ones,” the prelates’ statement said. “This situation is made even more difficult by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“We pray for those who are suffering, for those who have died, and for the first responders who are courageously offering help. We also pray for those who remain in the path of these storms and for their safety and well-being.”
The tornadoes uprooted homes, damaged airports and affected social distancing efforts in the middle of a pandemic as people were left homeless and were forced to seek and share shelter with others who had nowhere to go. Authorities urged those heading to shelters to use whatever they could find to protect themselves and to seek distance as much as they could to prevent spread of the coronavirus.
Mississippi was one of the hardest-hit states with a death toll of 11. The National Weather Service said at least 40 tornadoes were reported. The storms were moving east where authorities worried about the effect they could have on efforts to contain the coronavirus.
Even in the middle of destruction, the prelates’ statement expressed wishes for hope, one found in the Gospel readings telling of Christ’s resurrection.
“In the midst of disasters from weather and illness, we cling to this hope, that God can redeem our suffering and loss, that God is present to us even now,” they said, “and that the Lord has conquered death for all time, inviting us to see him face to face in eternal life.”