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Weeks After Hurricane, Pastors Become Counselors, Healers, Social Workers

As soon as they can find their flocks, that is.

Mark Lomax, in clerical collar, rubber boots and green Vatican City baseball cap, was standing outside his ruined St. Mark Catholic Church in the fetid stink of desolate St. Bernard Parish, when four neighbors spotted him from across the street.

"My God, look who it is!" a jubilant Paul Gremillion called back to his wife and two neighbors. The priest and his church members embraced in the middle of a mud-caked street, sweaty and dirty from foraging in the greasy sludge that coated the floors of their homes.

As usual, tears came quickly. "Oh Father, will we have a church again? Will there be a parish?" one of the women asked, her voice quivering. "We'll see. A lot's going to depend on the government and where they let us rebuild," Lomax said. "But you can be sure of this: Wherever the people are, the church will be there, too. It's just not clear where that's going to be yet."

So it goes around metropolitan New Orleans, in southeast Louisiana and in Texas, where in muddy streets and make-do shelters, in borrowed hotel meeting rooms and even on the Internet, New Orleans pastors have confronted the most basic physical, spiritual and emotional needs of families who have lost all they owned.

"In the last couple of weeks I've done literally everything, from social work and mental health counseling to psychological and spiritual warfare," said the Rev. Charles Southall of First Emanuel Baptist Church. Southall is now displaced in Baton Rouge, tending to a few hundred of his scattered New Orleans flock.

Like them, he lost everything he owned. He delivered his first sermon after the storm in a borrowed pulpit, wearing a suit and shoes donated by his hosts. He is still locating members of his church, scattered from "sea to shining sea." ...

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