New Orleans minister thanks Marylanders for helping storm victims

September 17, 2005|By Jennifer Skalka and Tyrone Richardson | Jennifer Skalka and Tyrone Richardson,SUN STAFF

Bishop Darneal Johnson III of the Beacon Light Baptist Church in New Orleans stood in the rotunda of Maryland's State House yesterday before about 100 people and told his story.

The 40-year-old minister fled New Orleans the day before Hurricane Katrina hit his city. He said he arrived in Maryland, his original home, with just the clothes he was wearing.

"Everything you see has been given to me," said Johnson, dressed in a pinstripe suit.

Johnson, who called himself a survivor rather than a victim, put a face on the thousands whose lives have been changed by the disaster.

His appearance in Annapolis was part of a national day of prayer declared by President Bush. Events in Annapolis and Baltimore were staged to honor the victims of the hurricane and to thank Marylanders for reaching out to help.

"God expects us to help those in need," Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said during the morning ceremony at the State House. "And in this case, Maryland, you've stepped it up. For that ... I'm very proud."

The event was attended by Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, Secretary of State Mary D. Kane and House Speaker Michael E. Busch. It followed a week of bickering among Ehrlich, a Republican, and his two likely Democratic challengers, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan, about whether each had done his part to help the relief effort.

Democrats had also contended that the Maryland Republican Party, which sent out an e-mail invitation to yesterday's event, was playing politics with the tragedy.

But after yesterday's ceremony, Busch, a Democrat, lauded Ehrlich for his commitment to the issue.

Johnson thanked Maryland officials for working so quickly to help with the relief effort. And he spoke of the struggle to rebuild for all those who have been displaced.

"At this point, what is normal?" Johnson said. "What is normal when you've been snatched away from what you know?"

According to the governor's office, the Maryland National Guard has flown 19 relief flights to the Gulf Coast states affected by Katrina. About 250 medical professionals from the state have been sent to Jefferson Parish, one of the hardest-hit areas. And Maryland has sent two Wellmobiles, which provide mobile medical care, to Alabama.

During another remembrance event yesterday, a noon Mass at St. Alphonsus Roman Catholic Church in Baltimore, Cardinal William H. Keeler urged congregants to continue to do their part to help the victims.

"As powerful as the winds and water of Katrina have been, our charities must be more powerful," he said. "The places struck have suffered enormously, and we have to be with them."

Keeler praised Catholic groups in Maryland for donating money and supplies, and schools such as Loyola College in Baltimore for accepting some students from the gulf region. He said the Archdiocese of Baltimore has raised more than $1.5 million this month from special collections.

Some of the more than 100 parishioners who attended yesterday's Mass said they were saddened by the devastation in New Orleans and that they hope their donations, and prayers, reach those who need them.

"I hope they know that the country and the world is behind them," said Pam Kappen, 45, of Manchester.

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