We all will recall for years where we were on Thursday afternoon,
August 14, when word of the blackout spread. Fortunately, Buffalo for
the most part was spared. But north, south, east, and west of us, from
the Midwest and Canada to the Atlantic seaboard suffered terrible
It is important to remember not only where we were but
what we did in reaction to the crisis. Buffalo and Western New York
being the area of good neighbors, I know there was tremendous concern
for elderly people living alone, for the sick, for children away from
home, for people separated from loved ones. Where phones were working,
they worked overtime. The important factor is that you reacted and did
A story might be in order. Most of us have read or
heard about a famous radio program produced by Orson Welles on Sunday
evening, the night before Halloween, 1938. Some of you may have listened
to the program directly. The historian William Manchester has a very
fine account of it in his book, The Glory and the Dream, A Narrative
History of America 1932-1972.
What Orson Welles did was dramatize
H.G. Wells' book, War of the Worlds, as a simulated news broadcast. An
invasion from Mars was presented as the real thing. Actors pretending to
be reporters in the field narrated horrifying attacks by Martians tall
as skyscrapers and armed with heat ray guns. Names of real places,
highways, and bridges were used. The New Jersey National Guard was
annihilated. Space ships continued to land. The Army Air Corps was wiped
out. Martian cylinders were falling all over the country: one outside
Buffalo, one in Chicago, one in St. Louis. Poisonous black smoke was
spreading over the country.
At the end of the program, Wells
signed off lightheartedly: "Goodbye everybody, and remember please if
your doorbell rings tomorrow and nobody's there, that was no Martian.
The problem, however, as a Princeton University
study later discovered, was that millions of people from Maine to
California believed it was the end of the world. The situation was
exacerbated by the fact that millions of people had switched radio
stations during the commercial break on the competing and very popular
Chase and Sanborn Hour, featuring Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy.
They were caught up in the frenzy of the "news broadcast."
interesting to note in that same study that of all the people believing
that disaster was inevitable, 70% did something: called relatives to say
goodbye, went to church, overwhelmed police switchboards, jammed
highways, train terminals, and bus stations. One woman called a bus
terminal for information and cried, "Hurry, please, the world is coming
to an end and I have a lot to do."
The other side of that statistic is jolting: 30% of those who believed this was an enormous crisis did nothing.
people describe the difficulties the Catholic Church is currently
experiencing nationally as a serious crisis. In years to come, we will
continue to remember it. Very importantly, we should be able to remember
what we did in reaction to the problem.
Structural reforms have
been needed. You have seen by our reports what has been accomplished in
that regard in recent years. The September 2003 issue of the Western New
York Catholic describes more recent steps which have been implemented.
reform must be institutional, yes, but it also must be personal.
Fundamentally, every reform in the Church must involve all of us. Every
renewal worthy of the name must be based on deeper personal faith and
stronger personal sacrifice. We must step up our exercises of prayer,
fasting, and works of charity. We must accentuate our participation at
Mass and in the other sacraments. We must become more involved in our
parishes, schools, religious education programs, social services, and
health care agencies. We must become better Catholics.
resolutions for reflection and action as we begin a new academic year.
We pray they will illuminate our memories for years to come.
Most Rev. Henry J. Mansell
Bishop of Buffalo
August 22, 2003