Aleteia Experts react to the Oklahoma tornado
A two-mile wide tornado wreaked havoc on the small town Moore near Oklahoma City, OK on Monday afternoon. So far, 237 injuries and 24 deaths have been reported, though those numbers are expected to climb as information emerges from the area.
Our Aleteia Experts expressed great sadness at the news. "Whenever I hear of natural disasters like this tornado that swept through Oklahoma City, I think first of the pain, the suffering, the sorrow that it causes to so many people," Catholic commentator Fr John Bartunek told Aleteia.
Some said they turned to prayer and recommended others do the same. "Sadness and prayers for both the victims and the survivors," Opus Dei priest Fr C. John McCloskey III said of his first reaction upon hearing thenews. Fr Bartunek had a similar sentiment, "And my first reaction is to pray for the victims and all the people affected – to pray for God to grant them spiritual comfort and wisdom in the face of the trial."
Catholic author Fr George Rutler offered a warning to the survivors of the media hype: "They have enough to do now without intrusive spectators," he said. "I'd only warn them to beware of those tempted to exploit the situation: the media, sentimentalists, selfish entrepreneurs, and politicians using this to involve the government beyond its rightful responsibility to promote the tranquility of order."
Why does God allow such natural tragedies to occur? "Unless God chooses to tell us, we really can't know why God allows natural disasters," Catholic writer Russell Shaw told Aleteia.
Austin Ruse, head of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, said, "The problem of tragedy is perhaps the most difficult thing to explain in the context of a loving God. How can he allow such suffering, particularly in children? It is easy for us who are not affected to invoke the mystery of God and redemption in suffering. Even so, we know that God was there when the tornado hit and He is there now comforting the victims."
Fr Bartunek also offered the comfort of God's presence even in the midst of tragedy, "Victims of natural disasters like this do not have to be alone; God wants to walk the path of sorrow with them. This is the message of Jesus Christ."
Shaw pointed out that suffering, when united to Christ, can find a higher meaning. "[S]uffering of any kind affords an opportunity to participate in the redemptive suffering of Christ. This hardly makes it a welcome experience, but it allows us to situate it in the context of God's providential plan and invests it with a transcendent value."
Several of the experts pointed to the Christian doctrine of the Fall to help explain why natural disasters such as this happen. "This a fallen world," Fr McCloskey told Aleteia. "Blame Adam and Eve not God and look forward to a new heaven and new earth when the Lord comes again."
"Natural evils, such as a tornado or earthquake," Fr Rutler said, "are part of the processes at work in the natural order of a corrupt universe. The moral question is how one reacts responsibly to a disaster over which one did not cause."
Pope Francis has also expressed sorrow for the tragedy and offered his prayers. According to the National Catholic Register, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone told reporters:
The Holy Father has followed with deep concern the aftermath of the devastating tornado which has struck Oklahoma and he asks you convey to the entire community the assurance of his solidarity and closeness in prayer. Conscious of the tragic loss of life and the immensity of the work of rebuilding that lies ahead, he asks Almighty God to grant eternal rest to the departed, comfort to the afflicted, and strength and hope to the homeless and the injured. In a particular way he commends to the Father of mercies the many young children among the victims and their grieving families. Upon the local civil and religious leaders, and upon all involved in the relief efforts, His Holiness invokes the Risen Lord’s gifts of consolation, strength and perseverance in every good.
Fr McCloskey offered this reminder in light of the disaster. "You never know the day nor the hour you will be called," he said. "Live accordingly."
This article has contributions from the following Aleteia Experts:
Fr John Bartunek, LC, is an author of 'The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer' and other books. He has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on CNN, Fox, and the BBC and has appeared on Larry King Live, Hannity, and the Laura Ingraham radio show.
Fr C. John McCloskey, III is a priest of the Prelature of Opus Dei. He currently is Research Fellow of the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington DC.
Fr George Rutler is pastor of Church of Our Savior. He has made documentary films in the United States and England, contributes to numerous scholarly and popular journals and has published 16 books on theology, history, and cultural issues.
Austin Ruse heads the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM) which has participated in every major UN social policy negotiation since 1997 including the multi-year negotiations that created the International Criminal Court.
Russell Shaw is a freelance writer from Washington, D.C.