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Gulf oil spill: Grand Isle residents turn to church for solace

May 23, 2010 |  1:53 pm


Thirty members of the United Pentecostal Church of Gretna, La., made the two-hour drive to Grand Isle to baptize new parishioners on the beach where they usually conduct the ceremony. But sheriff's officers riding four-wheel-drive dune buggies blocked the entrance.

Pastor Vidal Galvez, 40, and the caravan of the faithful drove a few hundred yards away to the bay-side waters and got on with the service. They strung a tarp between two vans, put a few beach chairs in a circle and set up a card table for the altar. Two Guatemalan guitarists started off the service with baptismal hymns.

After the 30-minute service, Galvez led congregants into the calm backwaters, where Diana Perdomo and Danilo Garcia were baptized with song and prayer.“This contamination is bad for the fishermen, and the animals," Galvez said in Spanish. “It ruins the environment.”

The pastor’s wife, Patricia Galvez, 38, and her two children, ages 4 and 9, waded into the water too. “I’m worried for my children. This is contaminating the air we breathe,” she said.

On the other end of Grand Isle, Father Mike Tran of Our Lady of the Isle Church in Grand Isle tried to help his congregation of mainly local residents make sense of the oil spill that is washing up on their beach not a quarter-mile away. “I took a walk to the beach on Thursday, to see what was happening," he said. "I got a horrible feeling. Our beach is destroyed. There is brown gooey stuff washing up on our beaches where we go swimming and fishing.

“I saw a little bird feeding in the area where the oil was, and when I went out at 7 a.m. the next morning, I saw the same bird with brown stuff on its chest. I tried to catch him, but I couldn’t. I had a sad feeling; it was very depressing.

“This whole gulf is being destroyed. Soon it will be called the Gulf of Death.”

Tran, dressed in a bright red robe, asked the congregation, “Who will come back to Grand Isle with the beaches like this?” Some people in the pews raised their hands, but not all.

“Our way of life is going to change. The fish are going to die. ... It was so depressing that I tried to think of something that would console me.

“Here in Grand Isle, we have had one tragedy after another. Three hurricanes, Katrina, Rita, Gustav and now the oil spill. ... I think things happen for a reason. Sometimes we forget to appreciate the things that we have. Perhaps now we will have a greater appreciation for it.”

“With all of our technology, we think that we have all of the answers. That we can drill down 5,000 feet,” he continued.  “But by doing that, new questions arise. It reminds us that God is in control. Our need for him is great.”

After singing the final hymn, Tran, the one-man choir, exited the church as the congregants left in their cars and pickups.

Tran arrived at Grand Isle in early 2005, just before Katrina. “I just finished repairing the church,” he said. “And now we have this. This parish will be affected for a long time. It’s going to be very damaging.”

He walked back into the church to prepare for the next service.

-- Carolyn Cole

Photo gallery: Gulf oil spill affects townsfolk and visitors alike

Photo: Pastor Vidal Galvez leads prayers during a baptismal ceremony in the bay waters of Grand Isle, La. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times