He scarfed hot cakes with happy patrons at Betsy's Pancake House, a reopened hangout in a downtrodden, flood-stained New Orleans neighborhood. He chose as a speech backdrop a new charter school viewed as a sign of the city's commitment to a better post-Katrina educational system.
He called on rhythm and blues legend and local favorite son Fats Domino, who is restoring his destroyed Ninth Ward home, and replaced the National Medal of Arts that got washed away with everything else. He visited a Habitat for Humanity project nearby that is building dozens of homes for displaced local musicians.
He even met the New Orleans Saints, whose return to the Superdome next month is cheered here as a symbol of normalcy in the very place that 30,000 storm victims grew increasingly desperate in the days after Katrina's strike.
"The challenge is not only to help rebuild, but the challenge is to help restore the soul," Mr. Bush said in a speech heavily laced with religious references. "Sunday has not yet come to New Orleans, but you can see it ahead."
reports Mr. Bush listened as Archbishop Alfred Hughes tried to answer those who ask if the storm was the will of God.
"We ask not why has God allowed this disaster, but how does God want us to respond to it," Hughes said.
Outside the cathedral, , and Mayor Ray Nagin told the crowd the anniversary was a difficult day for everyone, including himself.
"Trust me. We will get through it. We will get through it together," he said.
When Katrina roared ashore east of New Orleans last Aug. 29, it left 80 percent of New Orleans underwater, killed 1,800 people across the Gulf Coast, destroyed or severely damaged more than 204,000 homes and made more than 800,000 people homeless overnight.
A year later, New Orleans and other hard-hit parts of southeastern Louisiana haven't even emerged entirely from the cleanup phase. With insurance settlements in dispute, no master rebuilding plan from the city, and federal grants only beginning to flow to residents, significant reconstruction efforts seem a distant hope for most. Less than half of New Orleans' population has returned.
But some residents are unsure their city will return to how it was. "I feel like I've been paralyzed for a year… I wanted to see what would happen and make peace with all this. It's almost like grieving for the loss of someone," Coleen Mooney, a Katrina survivor, told CBS News' Harry Smith.
"I know you love New Orleans," Mr. Bush said to residents scattered across the nation. "And New Orleans needs you. She needs people coming home. She needs people, she needs those saints to come marching back. That's what she needs."
Many of those who have elected to take on long-time financial hardship and start rebuilding, rather than waiting any longer for federal assistance, reports . Terry Jackson, a Katrina survivor from New Orleans' Ninth Ward, told Smith he rebuilt his home almost entirely himself.
"Ain't nobody doin' nothing. They forgot about us. That's what I'd tell the president... The mayor, everybody. Y'all just forgot about us," Jackson told CBS News.