Faith, prayers help people pick up pieces from Irma Print this post

Bob Reddy – Florida Catholic

9/18/17

People of faith gathered together in prayer before, during and in the wake of the devastating impact of Hurricane Irma which made landfall in the southern-most part of the Diocese of Venice and left of trail of destruction in its wake.

What Irma did not do is to diminish the faith of most people, even those who lost everything, feel wholly blessed that the storm’s damage was not as bad as had been forecasted and that so few lives have been lost.

Damage caused by Hurricane Irma in a classroom at St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School in Naples.

The faithful have rallied together to watch out for their brothers and sisters in Christ. First, they came together to shelter from the storm with some using parish churches as shelters of last resort. Then everyone emerged to check on their friends, neighbors and strangers to find out if they were safe. Finally, everyone was in recovery mode, ensuring that damaged roofs were covered with tarps, and that everyone had enough fresh water and food. Parishes served as rallying points for recovery and Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. setting up 12 distribution points in the most devastated areas.

Much needed supplies of food and water were being distributed at 11 Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. disaster response distribution site including this one at Guadalupe Social Services in Immokalee.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane rode out the storm in Venice with several priests and has been in close contact with priests and religious since the storm. All priests and religious are safe, but damage has been done to a number of parish buildings, including churches and schools. In the wake of the storm, the Bishop has been responding to calls for assistance to help mitigate damage and assist those in greatest need.

The eye of Hurricane Irma passed directly over Marco Island with sustained winds of 130 mph and wind gusts reaching 142 mph at the Naples Municipal Airport. Hurricane force (75 mph or above) wind gusts spread across the entire 10-county Diocese. Widespread damage was done to homes, infrastructure, businesses and crops in Collier, Lee, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, DeSoto and Highlands counties.

There was extensive water damage to the interior of St. Margaret Parish in Clewiston from Hurricane Irma. The damage see here was to the area where the choir performs.

Since Irma, Bishop Dewane has been on the road each day visiting parishes and schools to see the damage firsthand while offering prayers and words of encouragement to the priests, principals and staff, hardest hit by the storm, that help is on the way.

The Bishop offered words of comfort and encouragement when he celebrated Mass on Sept. 16 at St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Naples. It was there that the parish church lost it roof, causing water damage in the church, and where the school also had extensive damage. Also in Naples, the Bishop also celebrated weekend Mass on Sept. 17 at St. John the Evangelist and St. Ann parishes, both having received serious damage to buildings during the storm. None of these parish churches had power at the time.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrates Mass at St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Naples on Sept. 16, the first since Hurricane Irma. The roof of the main church was blown off and the Mass was held in the Parish Center.

“We give thanks to the Lord that we are able to be here and that He continues to bless us and this parish,” Bishop Dewane said of the recovery efforts. “Progress is already being made in just a short time.”

In the wake of the storm, contractors for the Diocese were quick to place tarps on roofs of buildings to help prevent additional water damage and to inspect the structures to determine if they can be used.

While the feared storm surge did not reach an extreme level, churches on Marco Island and in Everglades City where the surge was the highest, were spared the destructive waters. However, the winds and rain did plenty of damage throughout the Diocese. Homes were damaged and destroyed and the lives of thousands have been disrupted and are in chaos.

“The Diocese is facing the aftermath of this storm head on,” Bishop Dewane said. “We are going to be helping our brothers and sisters in Christ for a long time to come.”

This help was needed most in areas where people lack economic means, aiding those who live paycheck-to-paycheck and may have lost everything; either to the wind, the rain or to the lasting floodwaters.

Catholic Charities has been on the ground ensuring that food and water is getting to those most in need setting up 12 disaster response distribution points. As electricity slowly comes back, many of the poorest are facing long-term job shortages as many businesses and crops have been destroyed.

Bishop Dewane said prayers were answered that the Diocese did not see even more death and damage.

“Did everything come out perfectly in this storm? No. But it could have been so much worse. I attribute this to the power of prayer.”

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