By Peter Finney Jr.
Catholic News Service

NEW ORLEANS – As millions of gallons of oil from an offshore rig explosion fouled hundreds of square miles in the Gulf of Mexico and advanced toward the Louisiana coastline, New Orleans Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond thanked BP for $1 million in emergency relief funds.{{more}}

The grant will allow local Church relief agencies to provide emergency food, financial and counseling assistance to needy fishing families.

BP, which operated the oil platform that exploded April 20 and killed 11 workers, earmarked $750,000 to Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New Orleans for direct assistance such as gift cards to local grocery stores, case management and counseling, and $250,000 to Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana for emergency food boxes.

The grant was announced at a May 18 news conference outside the headquarters of St. Bernard Parish, a civil jurisdiction equivalent to a county.

BP officials have, to date, been unable to contain the massive spill. Even if they find a permanent fix, the deposit of crude oil in the Gulf of Mexico has developed into one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history.

In response to the catastrophe, Catholic Charities has opened five emergency centers at local churches to distribute the financial aid and offer counseling to fishing families.

The sites are located in areas with large concentrations of fishermen: St. Bernard Church in the civil entity of St. Bernard, St. Thomas Church in Pointe a la Hache, St. Patrick Church in Port Sulphur, St. Anthony Church in Lafitte and Mary Queen of Vietnam Church in New Orleans East.

The $1 million grant will help fund outreach services for three months, and the program is likely to be extended if the impact of the oil spill grows, as almost everyone expects.

In thanking BP for its financial commitment, Archbishop Aymond asked for prayers that the oil will not destroy the local fishing industry, largely populated by small families who have made their living on the water for generations.

“We know that the people of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Grand Isle and New Orleans East are people who persevere and have been through so many difficult and challenging times and have borne this cross before,” Archbishop Aymond said. “We’re grateful for the gift because we want to be in the front lines and continue in the front lines for a longer period of time.”

Since the beginning of May, nearly 5,000 inspaniduals in the south Louisiana fishing community have benefited from emergency assistance from Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.