Mourners pray during an April 8 vigil at Elgar Petersen Arena in Humboldt, Saskatchewan, to honor members of the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team who were killed in a fatal bus accident. CNS photo/Jonathan Hayward, Reuters

In aftermath of Humboldt tragedy, faith leaders shared 'in their desolation'

By  ANDREW EHRKAMP, Canadian Catholic News
  • April 10, 2018

Fr. Joseph Salihu witnessed terrorist attacks while growing up in northern Nigeria.

But nothing prepared him or his parish community in Humboldt, Sask., for the shock and grief experienced when 15 people died April 6 after a bus carrying the town’s junior hockey team collided with a truck.

“I’ve seen terrorist attacks in which three or four people died, with lots of people injured, but not 15 people (killed) at the same time,” said Salihu, the pastor at St. Augustine parish in Humboldt. The church is one kilometre from the Humboldt hockey rink.

The dead included 10 Humboldt Broncos players between the ages of 16 and 21, the team coach, radio broadcaster, bus driver and two other team personnel. The accident occurred early in the evening when the bus taking the team to a playoff hockey game collided with a transport truck on a highway near the town of Tisdale, Sask. Fourteen others on the bus were injured.

Police have not provided any details about the cause of the collision. The bus was travelling north and passing through an intersection, which had stop signs for traffic travelling east and west. No charges have been laid.

When news of the crash started to trickle in, Salihu and other faith leaders of the Humboldt Ministerial Association were gathered for a children’s choir concert at the building which includes the Elgar Petersen Arena. The ministerial leaders rushed over to the arena to be with families of the victims, who were frantically waiting for confirmed information about the crash.

“They were there, just waiting for answers. But there weren’t any. There was nothing else that they could do,” said Salihu.

He prayed with three families of the crash victims. “No one knew what had happened at that point.”

As they waited for information, Salihu tried to provide comfort.

“It was more being present for them, to listen to them talk and to let them know that they were not alone,” Salihu said. “We were there to share in their desolation. And afterwards, we said a prayer together.”

Saskatoon bishop Mark Hagemoen, whose diocese includes Humboldt, said people are feeling “profound pain.”

“But in the midst of the sense of tragedy there was light — not hope yet — because there are so many caring people holding other members of the community,” he said. “I can’t help but think, we’re at the beginning of the Easter season which invites us to Easter joy amidst hopeless situations. There have been a number of reflections like that.”

The dead players have been identified as Adam Herold, 16, of Lethbridge, Alta.; Conner Lukan, 21, of Slave Lake, Alta.; Evan Thomas, 18, of Saskatoon; Jacob Leicht, 19, of Humboldt; Jaxon Joseph, 20, of Edmonton; Logan Boulet, 21, of Lethbridge, Alta.; Logan Hunter,  18, of St. Albert, Alta.; Logan Schatz, 20, of Allan, Sask.; Stephen Wack, 21, of St. Albert, Alta., and Parker Tobin, 18, of Stony Plain, Alta. 

Other victims were head coach Darcy Haugan, 42, team statistician Brody Hinz, 18, assistant coach Mark Cross, 27, broadcaster Tyler Bieber, 29, and bus driver Glen Doerksen, 59. The team’s athletic therapist, Dayna Brons, 24, died from her injuries five days after the crash.

The Saskatchewan coroner’s office issued an apology and condolences April 9 after misidentifying one of the victims as Xavier Labelle, who was injured but alive. The Ministry of Justice said the body of Tobin had been mistaken for Labelle.

Condolences poured into Humboldt from around the world, including messages from Pope Francis, Queen Elizabeth and President Donald Trump. The Vatican Secretary of State sent blessings on behalf of the Pope.

Hagemoen read the Pope’s message during an afternoon service at Holy Family Cathedral in Saskatoon.

"Informed of the injury and tragic loss of life caused by the road traffic accident in the province of Saskatchewan involving young hockey players, His Holiness Pope Francis sends his condolences to those who have lost loved ones, and commends the souls of the deceased to the mercy of Almighty God. To all in the community at this difficult time Pope Francis sends his blessing." 

A Go-Fund-Me page was set up to collect donations for families. Organizers had hoped to raise $10,000, but within four days donations had exceeded $7 million.

Salihu said he expects families and community members will ask “Where is God?” as the funerals get closer, but in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy most were in a “state of shock.”

“The Holy Spirit does not erase our wounds. He applies the grace of God to them,” Salihu said in a homily on Divine Mercy Sunday — two days after the crash. “Our current tragedy, painful as it is, gives us a great opportunity to bond as a community.”

(Grandin Media and Prairie Messenger)

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