All of the items donated to the Lac La Biche's Bold Centre on May 6. Photo/Courtesy of Lac La Biche County via Facebook

Neighbouring dioceses step up to aid Fort McMurray

By 
  • May 6, 2016

ST. PAUL, ALTA. – Neighbouring dioceses are stepping up to help the thousands who have been displaced by the catastrophic wildfire threatening the very existence of Fort McMurray, Alta.

Special collections will be taken at Masses in the Edmonton and Grouard-McLennan dioceses over the next two weekends to help with relief efforts.

“This is a beautiful example of Catholic communities reaching out to each other in time of need and I am very grateful to them for both the gesture and the generosity,” said St. Paul Bishop Paul Terrio, whose northern Alberta diocese includes Fort McMurray.

Parishes throughout the St. Paul diocese will also have special collections over the May 7-8 weekend as well as May 21-22.

The city in the heart of Alberta’s oilsands has been devastated by the out of control wildfire that forced the evacuation of the whole city of nearly 90,000 people May 3. Neighbouring communities have stepped up to welcome the evacuees, providing shelter, food and clothing for the many who escaped Fort McMurray with little more than the clothes they were wearing.

In Lac la Biche, about 300 km south of Fort McMurray, more than 1,700 evacuees had registered at the Bold Centre, a multi-purpose athletic and community centre that has been turned into a relief station, as of May 5.

“Most people have been using our facility as a rest stop as they travel south to stay with friends and family,” said Jihad Moghradi, communication co-ordinator for the County of Lac la Biche.

To meet the spiritual needs of these migrants, two Catholic priests have been redirected by Terrio to served at St. Catherine’s parish where the doors are being kept opened from 9 a.m. until 11 p.m.

Fr. Rene Realuyo, pastor of St. Louis’ parish in Bonnyville, and Fr. Andrew Schoenberger, pastor of St. John the Baptist parish in Fort McMurray, arrived in Lac la Biche May 5. They were to meet with the parish’s deacons — there is currently no parish priest available — to determine the needs of the people and how best to minister to them in the days ahead.

There is no word on the fate of the two Catholic parishes in Fort McMurray — St. John the Baptist and St. Paul — though Terrio said in a statement that there were rumours that St. Paul had been damaged by the fire.

The bishop has called on Catholics throughout his diocese to keep the evacuees in their prayers.

“As the extent and the dimensions of this Fort McMurray wildfire tragedy becomes more evident but also as the initial shock for the evacuees dims there follows a great sense of loss and grief,” said Terrio. “We must be sensitive and extra supportive for them not just because of their material losses but also because of their emotional and personal deprivations. We must be good listeners but above all we must support them in and through prayers. As Jesus’ Gospel for this Easter season recently said, ‘They will know you are my disciples by your love for each other.’ ”

The fire has also forced the relocation of a diaconal ordination.

“The scheduled diaconal ordination of Jhack Diaz for May 23 in Fort McMurray has obviously needed to be relocated,” said Terrio in a statement on the diocesan web site. “So I now advise that it will take place at the St. Paul cathedral on May 23 at 4 p.m. and be followed by fellowship and a festive Filipino meal at the Senior’s Centre behind the cathedral.”

Other dioceses are also stepping up, including the Archdiocese of Toronto, which is accepting donations to help victims. Donations can be made online at archtoronto.org, by call the Development Office at (416) 934-3411 or through parishes.

Check out our other stories on the wildfire at Fort McMurray:

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