New Orleans

New Orleans, 10 Years Later

Image via YurkaImmortal/Shutterstock

President Obama is visting New Orleans today, the site of catastrophic damage caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, to honor 10 years of rebuilding and growth since the storm. 

The President is expected to comment on the pain, trauma, and destruction still evident, even while offering words of hope and admiration for the regrowth evident in the city over the last decade.

According to the prepared remarks, reports The Times-Picayune, Obama  will comment on the failure of government to "look out for its own citizens."

Below are some of the challenges facing New Orleans today, as well as points of rebuilding and hope in the city ten years after Hurricane Katrina.

For Some Converts, Ramadan is the Loneliest Time of Year

Photo courtesy RNS/ Paul K. DeMelto.

Paul K. DeMelto of Cleveland converted to Islam more than five years ago. Photo courtesy RNS/ Paul K. DeMelto.

Since converting to Islam more than five years ago, Paul K. DeMelto of Cleveland has done all he could to become a more knowledgeable Muslim, attending a new converts class and hiring Arabic tutors to help him learn to read the Quran.

But despite his efforts, DeMelto found himself alone last Ramadan, the holiest month of the Muslim year, when adherents fast from sunrise to sunset and eat a communal meal at night.

As he looks to another Ramadan beginning today, DeMelto wonders if this might be the year when he finally lands an invitation to a fellow Muslim’s home for the iftar, the fast-breaking meal.

Judge Blocks New Orleans Law that Prevents Preaching in French Quarter

Bourbon Street photo: gary yim /

Bourbon Street photo: gary yim /

A federal judge has temporarily blocked enforcement of a city law that was recently used to arrest Christian evangelists who were preaching on Bourbon Street during Southern Decadence, the annual celebration of gay culture in the French Quarter.

Part of the city's recently enacted "aggressive solicitation" ordinance orders people not to "loiter or congregate on Bourbon Street for the purpose of disseminating any social, political or religious message between the hours of sunset and sunrise."

"That's no longer in effect," American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Justin Harrison said.

U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon granted a temporary restraining order on Sept. 21 and set a hearing for a preliminary injunction for Oct. 1.

Nine Christian preachers and activists were arrested in one well-publicized incident during the gay-themed celebration. One reportedly held a sign reading "God Hates Homos," and others shouted what witnesses characterized as slurs.

New Orleans Synagogue Reopens 7 Years After Katrina

RNS 2007 Photo by Ellis Lucia/The Times-Picayune

Rabbi Uri Topolosky and family at the Congregation Gates of Prayer. RNS 2007 photo by Ellis Lucia/The Times-Picayune

Seven years after Hurricane Katrina toppled a nearby floodwall and drowned their synagogue, and after a seven-year journey praying in hotel meeting rooms, then in rooms borrowed and rented from another congregation, the 100 or so families of Congregation Beth Israel are finally home.

The wandering congregation moved into their new synagogue in suburban Metairie on Aug. 26, three days before the Katrina anniversary and two days before Hurricane Isaac hit landfall in Louisiana.

With a short parade that included a New Orleans brass band, clergy and friends ceremonially carried their five sacred Torahs to their home in Beth Israel’s new ark.

There’s a passage from Hebrew Scripture from the Song of Solomon carved into the ark’s face: “Mighty waters cannot extinguish our love.”


Group House Gives Women a Place to Discern Their Calling as Nuns

RNS photo by Rusty Costanza / The Times-Picayune

Paige LaCour, second from right, hugs Archbishop Gregory Aymond. RNS photo: Rusty Costanza / The Times-Picayune

In what is being described as the first of its kind in the U.S., the Archdiocese of New Orleans has transformed a vacant church rectory into a group house where single women will live together while deciding whether to undertake lives as nuns.

The center, dedicated on Aug. 15, occupies the second and third floors of the St. Rita rectory. Within a few days, two women, then perhaps three more, will move into the spotless rectory, their collective lives to be superintended by two veteran nuns who will show the younger women the dynamics of shared community life.

“How we live in community. How to communicate. How to share,” said Sister Carmen Bertrand, for 48 years a member of the Sisters of the Holy Family.

Beyond orienting them to the rhythms of community life, Bertrand and her colleague, Sister Diane Roche, a Religious of the Sacred Heart, will teach the tenants various modes of prayer, organize occasional retreats, and bring in representatives of other religious orders to present themselves and their ways of life.

Young Lawyer Fights for Social Justice on Her Way to Becoming a Nun

Alison McCrary

Alison McCrary

Alison McCrary starts her mornings with prayer and meditation.

Sometimes she writes in her journal, other times she draws geometric mandalas. It's a way of silencing her mind.

She thinks about what grace she wants to ask for that day. Patience? Gratitude? Understanding?
"Humility is a big one," she says. "I ask, 'How can I increase God and decrease me?'"
McCrary graduated from law school in May and is in formation to become a nun in the Congregation of St. Joseph. She lives with a group of sisters in a house, and every night they sit down to eat together and share after-dinner prayers.
McCrary tries to strike a balance between prayer and ministry. The young lawyer, who turns 30 in February, spends her days as an advocate and organizer working with a grassroots group, Safe Streets/Strong Communities.
"People are always asking me, 'Why don't you get burned out?' But I feel like the more you give, the more you get back," she says.
Often, her ministry takes her to the streets of the city, monitoring second-line parades for any police misconduct, or sitting in a bar talking to Mardi Gras groups about noise ordinances or curfews that threaten native traditions.

Pastor Poised to Be First African-American to Lead Southern Baptists

The Rev. Fred Luter via Franklin Ave Church website,

The Rev. Fred Luter via Franklin Ave Church website,

After months of urging from other Baptists around the country, the Rev. Fred Luter told his African-American congregation that he will seek to become the first black man to lead the predominantly white Southern Baptist Convention.
Several Baptist leaders said Luter becomes the prohibitive favorite for the post, to be filled in a potentially historic election at the Southern Baptists' annual meeting in New Orleans in June.
SBC Today, a Baptist-focused news website, carried the announcement on earlier this week. Youth pastor Fred "Chip" Luter III separately confirmed Luter's announcement to his church last Sunday.
Luter appears to be the first candidate to declare for the post, which will become vacant this summer when the Rev. Bryant Wright of Marietta, Ga., finishes his second one-year term.
Many began openly promoting Luter for the top job last summer, moments after he was elected the convention's first African-American first vice president.

What's in a Name?: Campus Crusade for Christ Becomes 'Cru'

Shakespeare said a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Maybe, but a Stink Rose by any other name (say... garlic?) might get more play.

On July 19, Campus Crusade for Christ announced its plan to officially change its name to Cru in early 2012.

Brown v. Board of Education had not yet been fought in the Supreme Court when Bill and Vonetta Bright christened their evangelical campus-based ministry Campus Crusade for Christ in 1951. The evangelical church context was overwhelmingly white, middle class, and suburban. The nation and the church had not yet been pressed to look its racist past and present in the face. The world had not yet been rocked by the international fall of colonialism, the rise of the Civil Rights movement, the disillusionment of the Vietnam War, the burnt bras of the women's liberation movement, the fall of the Berlin Wall, or the rise of the Black middle class (more African Americans now live in the suburbs than in inner cities). In short, theirs was not the world we live in today. So, the name Campus Crusade for Christ smelled sweet. Over the past 20 years, though, it has become a Stink Rose ... warding off many who might otherwise have come near.