As New Orleans still recovers, prayer teams cover one block at a time

Millie Campbell, 76 years old, is one of the people praying for New Orleans, a city still recovering from the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster and experiencing a murderous crime wave. 

A couple of times per week, Campbell and her companion Betty Minor, 69, drive slowly around assigned neighborhoods, praying for their city, reports the New Orleans Times-Picayune via Religion News Service. 

On a recent trip, Campbell backed her blue Chevrolet away from her spotless brick home. "Oh God," she said, "we thank you for the blood of Jesus." Then she cranked the wheel straight, put the car into drive, and headed slowly up Frenchmen Street, one hand on the wheel, the other turned upward toward the heavens. 

"Touch this block in the name of Jesus," she continued. Also in the front seat, Minor filled in the gaps between Campbell's appeals: "Hallelujah ... Glory, glory." 

Half a dozen others also do the prayer drives. They pray for an end to the scourge of murders sapping the city -- 199 last year, and 17 or so on the streets Campbell drove last week. 

Sometimes, Campbell and Minor join hands, bouncing slowly over the pothole-filled streets of their neighborhood. "Cover your children, Father God," Minor said. "In the name of Jesus." 

The car turned onto A.P. Tureaud Boulevard. "Hope is not in the dollar," Campbell said. "Hope is in you, Christ Jesus." The pair drove past people sitting on stoops, past Tony's Historical Parakeet Restaurant and Bar, past the blighted houses and freshly rebuilt homes in neighborhoods undergoing checkerboard recoveries. In August, 2005, Hurricane Katrina flooded 80 percent of the city and resulted in about 1,400 deaths. 

Campbell and Minor's group consists of six women and one man. They are from different churches, bound together by an ad hoc prayer group that meets twice a month at Campbell's house. This is strictly their project. They are among thousands of people unorganized, unsponsored, praying daily for the safety of New Orleans. 

Usually the people in Campbell's group go solo. Sometimes it's a special trip. But sometimes they pray while doing something else, like going out for groceries. The trips can be long or short. Each person prays however he or she is moved to. Campbell and her friends have been doing this for about six weeks. 

Across the city, thousands of Catholics formally pray for peace in the city at each Sunday Mass, reciting a special anti-crime petition at the request of Archbishop Gregory Aymond. St. Anna's Episcopal Church keeps a tally of murders in the city on a huge white board outside the church building, to raise awareness and "name the victims." Other clergy lead congregations in other ways, and run youth ministries, literacy programs, sports programs, anything to help tamp down crime. 

But Campbell and her friends have decided the most powerful thing they can do is drive the city's streets and pray, as the community does its business, unaware, around them. "We got a problem, but we don't know how to solve it," Campbell insists. "Well, we do," she says, meaning herself, Minor and their friends. "We're taking it to the Spirit." 

Bruce Nolan

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