45 people saved from tornado's fury in hallway of Texas church

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Diocese of Tyler

By Mark Pattison

(CNS) — In the insurance world, extreme weather events such as tornadoes are
often referred to as “acts of God.”

But in the
small Texas town of Emory, about 50 miles northwest of Tyler and 70 miles east
of Dallas, some 45 people are considering it an act of God that they survived
a twister that took out all of their church except for the hallway in which
they were huddled.

providential event took place the evening of April 29, as severe storms tore
through Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas on a northeasterly path that killed at least 13 people in three states.

youth ministry at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Emory was hosting a dinner
honoring the parish’s graduating high school seniors in conjunction with the parish’s
Knights of Columbus council and its ladies’ guild.

got a phone call from Maggie (Conder), the volunteer in the office,” youth
minister Monica Hughes told Catholic News Service May 1. “I almost didn’t
answer, because I didn’t want to interrupt the speaker.” But Hughes knew Conder
was monitoring the paths of storms in Texas, and “she wouldn’t have
interrupted unless it was important,” Hughes said.

It was:
“The tornado that hit Canton was heading straight for us,” she

said she and her husband both tried to pull up weather radar on their cellphones
without luck. Then Hughes made the decision to tell teens and adults to move to
the church hallway. The decision, she said, was based on “this instinct
when you learn when you’re a child — you go to the hallway and you cover your

was some grumbling by the teens but everyone complied, Hughes remembers. “It’s
the innermost place of the building,” she said of the hallway. “Everything
else had exterior walls. On my way, I went around and I locked all the exterior
doors to the building — just one little extra step to keep the wind from ripping
them open.”

seconds after Hughes got into the hallway after completing her rounds, ” my
husband said, ‘It’s hitting.’ He saw the roof of the sanctuary rip off — one
piece. We saw the doors fly open into the sanctuary space. My husband grabbed
the door and he held on with everything (he had) to the other,” Hughes
said. “What I saw was people covering each other, comforting each other — parents covering small children, teenagers huddling together. We began to

The parish’s deacon, Marcelino Espinosa, was at one end of the hallway
as he began a rosary; Hughes was at the other end beginning the Divine Mercy chaplet.

didn’t have this horrible fear, we felt protected,” she told CNS. “The
whole time that we were in there and we were holding those doors, I felt that
Jesus was over us … whispering to me, ‘It’s OK, I’ve got you.'”

added, “I described it … as a Passover. The tornado came, and it his us
with full force and it was over.”

After a
quick assessment of the damage, the group decided to stay put as another storm
was bearing down on them. Firefighters coming after the second storm advised
them to evacuate as the combination of a downed power line and a gas leak
threatened catastrophe, Hughes said.

outside, they saw the church was destroyed — except for the hallway. The
pastor’s house nearby was spared, save for a damaged backyard fence. One irony
in the storm: Hughes’ 22-year-old daughter, who was at the dinner as well, had been evacuated in March from Peru where flooding and landslides wiped out destroyed entire communities. “And now we had to pluck her out of a
tornado,” Hughes said.

a miracle,” declared the pastor, Father Victor Hernandez. “People
could experience the hands of God protecting them. He was not at the dinner,
having been summoned to celebrate Mass in Pittsburgh, Texas, about 75 minutes
from Emory. On his drive back, “I heard the sirens go off and I wanted to
be with my community,” he said.

celebrated Mass as usual April 30, but outside on parish property. “We’re
going to come out of this stronger than ever,” Father Hernandez said. “We
are going to have a new building and church, which was not in our plans. We are
going to move bigger and faster.”

– – – 

Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.

– – –

Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Original Article