Catholic Charities and Gulf Oil Disaster


KIM LAWTON, host: Repercussions from the Gulf Coast oil spill dominated the news again this week. President Obama pushed BP to do a better job of resolving the crisis and taking responsibility for the damages. Meanwhile, religious groups have been holding a series of prayer vigils across the country. Participants are praying for an end to the environmental disaster. They are also offering prayers for those who have been most severely affected. The crisis has taken a devastating toll on people involved directly and indirectly in the fishing industry. Several faith-based groups have been mobilizing to provide assistance. Joining me now is Margaret Dubuisson of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Margaret, thanks for being here. Tell us a little about the needs you’re serving right now.

MARGARET DUBUISSON (Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New Orleans): Well, Kim, we have five centers set up in the fishing villages in the archdiocese of New Orleans. We’ve seen about 8,000 people so far, fishermen and their families who’ve come in just looking for help, looking for support, looking for financial assistance in some way. The BP claims process is a little cumbersome, and it is going to take some time. So Catholic Charities has been able to provide direct assistance and food much more quickly and put that in the hands of the fishermen through these five emergency relief centers.

LAWTON: What about the emotional needs, the spiritual needs? I imagine that those are very difficult as well.

DUBUISSON: Kim, it is. We have seen about 8,000 people in our five centers, as I said. Many of those people are receiving mental health assessments, where we ask very careful questions to see how they’re feeling and how they’re processing all of this. You may have heard this before, but this is much more than a loss of income for this particular group. This is loss of a way of life and a culture, and people are very fearful, very anxious, because no one knows how long this is going to go on, and the news just seems to get increasingly worse about it. So these fishermen and their families who for generations have made their living as fishermen, as a very independent group, they’re having a lot of difficulty dealing with the anxiety and uncertainty of the oil spill situation.

LAWTON: And what about for the broader community? Obviously, these people are directly—their livelihoods have been directly affected, but the greater area down there along the Gulf Coast, you all are still getting over Hurricane Katrina.

DUBUISSON: It’s been almost five years since Katrina and, yes, we are still definitely in the recovery period of that. So this was, this was an especially difficult blow at this time coming up on this five-year anniversary, when a lot of people felt like we were just beginning to get our heads above water, so to speak and, you know, making real progress toward the recovery, and then this oil spill comes. It’s almost like Katrina all over again and especially for the families of these fishermen, many of whom lost boats and homes in Hurricane Katrina and then in Gustav and Ike a year later. This has been, you know, a particularly difficult blow, a very, very anxiety-producing situation.

LAWTON: The churches down there are often the center for so much of the community. Do they have the resources they need to really deal with this crisis?

DUBUISSON: Well, we’re making the resources available, we’re gonna find the resources. We are reaching out to people who would like to help us in that, and anyone who would like to help can visit our website, which is, and we have a secure website, and we’re set up to take donations there. But Catholic Charities and the archdiocese of New Orleans have been on the ground in these affected communities virtually since the beginning, like the archbishop went out the weekend that the spill occurred and met with parish leaders to find out, what do you all need us to do? He then gave Catholic Charities the green light to provide whatever services were necessary, and we’ve been doing that now for I think it’s fifty some odd days now since the spill first began, and we’ve been providing services to the fishermen ever since, and we will continue to provide services until it’s all over, and we’ll find the resources that we need to do that.

LAWTON: All right. Margaret, thank you very much.

DUBUISSON: Thank you, Kim.