NEW YORK – U.S. bishops over the weekend prayed that those affected by a series of tornadoes that tore through six midwestern and southern states find “peace, comfort, and hope” in the Catholic faith as they grieve, rebuild and recover.
“During the Advent season where we await in joyful anticipation for the birth of our Lord, we pray for those who have been injured, for those who have lost their lives, and for their grieving families and communities,” said Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles and Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City in a Dec. 11 statement.
Gomez, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and Coakley, the chair of the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, called the whole situation “heartbreaking.” As of the end of the day Dec. 12 there were at least 90 reported deaths, with more expected.
The hardest hit state was Kentucky, where Gov. Andy Beshear announced Dec. 12 the death toll had risen to at least 80 and is expected to grow. Tornadoes ripped through 200 miles of the state Friday night leaving communities in their path in ruin.
The western part of the state was hit the hardest. A candle factory just outside of Mayfield, Ky., was completely leveled by the tornado outbreak during a Friday night shift, which is believed to have killed a number of the 100 workers inside.
Bishop William Medley of Owensboro couldn’t be reached for comment on Sunday. Tina Kasey, the diocesan director of communications told Crux that he celebrated Mass for St. Joseph Church in Mayfield that afternoon.
In a statement on Dec. 11, Medley requested that each parish in the diocese take up a special collection at the weekend Masses, citing that many of those injured in the Mayfield candle factory were parishioners, and others were migrants and marginalized members of the community.
“I thank you in advance for your generous response to this terrible devastation. God will bless our generosity,” Medley said. “In addition, let us also unite in prayer as a Catholic community for all of the suffering that was caused by this disaster.”
Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville spoke with Medley over the weekend about the best way the archdiocese can help and will communicate that to parishes today, according to Cecelia Price, the chief communications officer for the archdiocese. Early on Sunday, Kurtz tweeted out his appreciation for a message from Pope Francis.
“He offers heartfelt prayers that almighty God will grant eternal peace to those who have died, comfort to those who mourn their loss, and strength to all those affected by this immense tragedy,” reads the message from Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
“With gratitude for the tireless efforts of the rescue workers and all engaged in caring for the injured, the grieving families and those left homeless, Pope Francis invokes upon all engaged in the massive work of relief and rebuilding the Lord’s gift of strength and generous perseverance of their brothers and sisters.”
The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Kentucky, is sending out a disaster relief team to Bowling Green – a city in the southern part of the state – to help with cleanup and any unmet needs individuals and families may have.
Although the Sisters of Charity weren’t directly impacted by the tornadoes, Sister Martha Clan told Crux “everybody’s sad” for those affected.
“We can’t believe it,” Clan said. “We prayed for them in church this morning.”
The five other states hit by the tornadoes were Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi and Tennessee.
Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, Illinois, asked Catholics to “please join me in praying for the victims of the terrible storms” in a weekend social media post.
“May the God of mercy bring comfort to survivors and healing to victims,” Cupich wrote.
Other U.S. prelates weighed in on social media as well.
On Dec. 11, Bishop Robert Brennan of Brooklyn wrote that “today we offer prayers and solidarity for all those affected by the tornadoes. We pray especially for those who died and those who mourn, for those who suffered destruction, and for all those involved in rescue and relief.”
Bishop Joseph Bambera of Scranton on Dec. 11 wrote “may almighty God grant eternal peace to those who have died and bring comfort to all those who are injured and suffering.”
President Joe Biden on Dec. 11 pledged that the federal government will do “everything it can possibly do to help those affected, adding that he had approved Kentucky’s state of emergency and is ready to approve the requests of other states.
“I promise you, whatever is needed, whatever is needed, the federal government is going to find a way to supply it,” Biden said.
Donations to help with recovery efforts can be made through the Catholic Charities USA disaster relief page on the organization’s website.
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg