IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Tennessee Highway Patrol, handout via Reuters
GATLINBURG, Tenn. (CNS) —
Catholic parishioners in the Diocese of Knoxville are among those who have lost
homes and businesses in the wildfires that ravaged tourist areas in the Great
Smoky Mountains region Nov. 29, said Bishop Richard F. Stika of Knoxville.
News reports said the death toll
from the fires had reached at least seven, with as many as 45 people suffering
injuries. Two others died when a tornado swept through Tennessee the evening of
AP reported that officials also
have determined that at
least 300 structures in Gatlinburg have been damaged or destroyed. Initial
reports put the figure at 150 in the resort town. The blaze “left whole
neighborhoods in ruins,” said Reuters.
More than 700 structures have
been damaged or destroyed throughout Sevier County, which includes Gatlinburg.
“The Catholic community of east
Tennessee continues to pray for those who have been affected by the terrible
wildfires in Gatlinburg and other communities across the region,” Bishop Stika
said. “We are grateful for all the men and women who bravely put themselves in
harm’s way to protect people and property that were in danger.”
“I recognize that the good
people of east Tennessee come together quickly in times of need. The Diocese of
Knoxville shares that commitment,” he added.
Also late Nov. 30, the diocese received
word that it appeared that St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Gatlinburg Gatlinburg
suffered no fire damage. “The extent of any smoke or wind damage cannot be
determined until officials reopen the roads into Gatlinburg,” a diocesan
Earlier that day, the diocese
reported that the pastor, Father Antony Punnackal, had to evacuate but was
Bishop Stika asked that all
parishes and mission churches in the diocese hold a special collection at
Masses the weekend of Dec. 3-4 to benefit victims of the fires in Gatlinburg
and across the region. The diocese also set up an assistance fund for fire
victims and was accepting donations online at https://tinyurl.com/j6gf2wd.
He reported that Mercy Sister
Mary Christine Cremin, executive director of Catholic Charities of East
Tennessee, was leading efforts to help many of the diocesan agency’s clients in
Gatlinburg and Sevier County and anyone else in need of assistance.
The clergy and staff at Sacred
Heart Cathedral and Sacred Heart Cathedral School initiated a food drive to
benefit fire victims, and supplies were already on their way to Gatlinburg,
according to the bishop.
“If conditions permit,” Bishop
Stika said, he planned to celebrate Sunday Mass Dec. 4 at St. Mary’s in
“I ask that your prayers
continue for all the victims and their families,” he said.
The twister that hit Tennessee
was part of a storm system that spawned at least a dozen tornadoes that swept
through parts of the South. The National Weather Service said parts of Alabama,
Louisiana and Mississippi also were affected. Besides the confirmed fatalities
in Tennessee, at least 30 people in Alabama reported injuries.
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