President Bush, acknowledging at a prayer service that some of the "greatest hardship" of Katrina fell upon the poor, renewed his call today for the nation to "clear away the legacy of inequality."
His comments at the Washington National Cathedral, a reprise of part of his televised speech in New Orleans last night, followed an ecumenical array of sermons with a similar message about the suffering in the aftermath of the hurricane.
"Until we love enough to trade places with the poor, the disadvantaged, the disenfranchised, even the minorities," said the Rev. T.D. Jakes of Dallas, looking directly down at the president, "then the healing will not be real."
The country must "not stop until we have raised them up to an acceptable standard of living," Jakes said. "The Good Samaritan never said a word to the victim" he stopped to help, he said. "It is not important what we say. It is important what we do."
Bush's appearance at the service in remembrance of Katrina's victims followed a prime-time speech last night delivered from Jackson Square in New Orleans at which he once again conceded the failures of the federal government in responding to America's worst natural disaster in modern times.
There was no further reference today, by Bush or by the clergy speaking at the cathedral, to who was or was not responsible. Rather, the focus was on physical and spiritual rebuilding.
The task, Bush said, "will measure our unity as a people. Americans of every race and religion were touched by this storm, yet some of the greatest hardship fell upon citizens already facing lives of struggle: the elderly, the vulnerable and the poor.
"And this poverty," he said, "has roots in generations of segregation and discrimination that closed many doors of opportunity.
"As we clear away the debris of a hurricane, let us also clear away the legacy of inequality. Let us deliver new hope to communities that were suffering before the storm. "As we rebuild homes and businesses," Bush said, "we will renew our promise as a land of equality and decency."
Jakes, who is African-American, used the biblical parable of the Good Samaritan to make the same point.
"Restoration," Jakes said, "is more than observation from the comfort of our lives. . . . [We can no longer] continue past the ghetto on the way to the Mardi Gras" but rather "reach beyond our neighborhood," beyond "those who look like us or vote the way we vote."
"From the wreckage of the old," said the Rev. Samuel Lloyd, dean of the Washington National Cathedral, let the nation build "a new sense of unity . . . so that none can be left behind" again.