The archdiocese of Melbourne will be the Catholic Church’s gateway for aid to devastated Victorian towns, regions.
By Anthony Barich
The Archdiocese of Melbourne has prepared an almost unprecedented mobilisation of its resources to help victims of the Victoria firestorm.
In a letter to all priests in the Archdiocese last week laying out the blueprint for helping fellow Victorians, Vicar General Monsignor Les Tomlinson appealed for priests to assist with counselling and chaplaincy services; the Church expects to be overwhelmed with demand once devastated towns are opened up and people start rebuilding their lives.
“The parish priests and pastoral teams in the areas of greatest needs have indicated that they were managing at the moment; but as the affected areas are opened up and as people seek to resettle into some sort of normal life, many material, emotional and pastoral needs are likely to emerge,” Mgr Tomlinson said early last week.
Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart has appointed Fr Greg Bourke, parish priest of St Peter the Apostle in Hoppers Crossing, to the newly-created position of Bushfire Recovery Chaplain. Fr Thang Vu, supported by Father Donald Lorenz, will attend to pastoral responsibilities in Fr Bourke’s parish.
Fr Bourke will be the ‘go to’ person for state and civil authorities for the co-ordination and provision of pastoral care to emergency and recovery services personnel working in the fire affected areas and will liaise with key Diocesan and church agencies including the Catholic Education Office, Cenatcare Family Services and the Society of St Vincent de Paul.
He will also liaise with parishes throughout the Archdiocese where bushfire victims may be billetted or staying with family and friends.
Fr Bourke will also arrange assistance on request to parishes in the affected areas which may need assistance in providing pastoral care and funeral services in the initial recovery phase. He will develop and manage a list of priests offfering to assist their fellow priests in the fire affected areas.
In making the appointment, Archbishop Hart said that the Catholic Church’s presence during the initial crisis and recovery stages will need to go beyond its normal and ongoing presence as represented by the faithful and committed parish communities, their priests, pastoral associates and religious who are there for the long haul.
The appointment is for an initial period of eight weeks with possible extension.
Canon Graeme Winterton, the state co-ordinator for the joint Department of Human Services/Victorian Council of Churches’ emergencies ministry, advised the Archdiocese that beyond the immediate crisis which was being well managed there was likely to be a great demand for pastoral support and chaplaincy in the coming weeks and months.
Recovery Centres were established where the services of pastoral care and chaplaincy services are in great demand, but as the immediate crisis passes there will also be need for counselling, and support for many of those affected by the fires, Mgr Tomlinson said.
Centacare Catholic Family Services offered the Department of Human Services professional social workers and psychologists to help to meet some of these demands in the Recovery Centres, and also provided clinical supervision and support if required to parish workers in the areas affected by the fires.
A spokesman from the Archdiocese said that the day the fires hit, the Melbourne church office was swamped with calls from people asking what they can do to help.
As two Victorian radio stations dedicated constant coverage of the tragedy, the spokesman said callers reported houses simply exploding, while most people who gathered at the recovery centres were clueless as to whether their properties survived, and in many cases had missing friends and family.
The Vicar General confirmed to priests that St Mary’s Church in Kinglake and Our Lady of the Snows Church at Marysville were destroyed, while psychologists and counsellors of the Pastoral Care Unit of the Catholic Education Office in Melbourne were on hand to support school students and teachers of Catholic schools in the affected areas.
He also put the word out to Catholics in the Archdiocese to offer accommodation for those who had lost their homes.
Archbishop Hart asked for a special collection in all parishes over February 14-15 for the Catholic Archbishop’s Charitable Fund – Bushfire Appeal that he launched on February 9. The prelate said he had rarely witnessed the level of community anxiety and concern for people and communities through which the fires had passed.
He also encouraged those who can give blood to do so, and urged others to respond generously to established appeals to assist fellow Victorians to help rebuild their lives.