April 20, 2007

Offers of aid to St. Anne Parish cross diocesan, ecumenical lines

By Sean Gallagher

In the Church’s earliest days, one of the faithful’s most distinctive traits was the care they showed for one another.

According to the early Christian writer Tertullian, pagans often said in astonishment, “See how they love one another,” when they witnessed the aid that their Christian neighbors gave to each other when they were in need.

That same outreach of loving support has been displayed by parishes and both Catholic and other Christian traditions in the wake of the fire that destroyed St. Anne Church in New Castle on April 7.

Offers of aid have poured in to the Connersville Deanery parish from people in New Castle and from as far away as North Carolina.

Some of them have come from Catholics who know what it means to see their spiritual home go up in flames.

Members of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Indianapolis, whose church was severely damaged by a fire in 2001, have sent in monetary donations.

Franciscan Father Frank Kordek, Sacred Heart’s pastor, said a second collection will be taken up during weekend Masses on April 21-22.

“We were grateful for the help extended to Sacred Heart at the time of our fire,” said Father Frank, “and we’ll respond as we are able.”

Father Shawn O’Neal, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Bryson City, N.C., and the nearby mission of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Cherokee, N.C., in the Charlotte Diocese, learned of the fire through a friend in the archdiocese.

During the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday morning Masses at his parish of approximately 100 families, he took up a second collection of more than $850 to help support New Castle’s parish.

He did this in part because of the vivid memory of a 1985 arson fire that destroyed the church at the parish where he served after being ordained in 2000.

“A lot of generosity was shown for the sake of rebuilding that church,” said Father O’Neal. “Remembering how much compassion was offered from people far and wide, I just wanted to return the favor.”

Sharing the experience of a church fire was not the only motivation for Catholics to reach out to help the members of St. Anne Parish.

Members of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish in Cambridge City share a priest, their pastor, Father Joseph Rautenberg, who also serves as sacramental minister of the New Castle parish.

Between the Easter Vigil and an Easter Sunday Mass

celebrated at St. Elizabeth Church, more than $2,400 was donated in second collections.

“I hope that they feel supported,” said Father Rautenberg of the St. Anne parishioners.

“I think the danger is that in a time like this, when a

disaster happens to you, that you feel kind of abandoned.”

Franciscan Sister Shirley Gerth, parish life coordinator of St. Anne Parish, said she has not felt alone in the wake of the fire. The offers of assistance to the parish have amazed her.

“It’s just incredible. It’s overwhelming,” she said. “You talk about God’s abundant love overflowing—I’d say we’ve witnessed it. We’ve been recipients of it.”

Sister Shirley said St. Mary Parish in Anderson, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese, has offered assistance. St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Fortville donated a portable altar and cassocks for altar servers.

Oregon Catholic Press gave the New Castle parish replacement missalettes, binders and other materials needed for liturgical music.

Donations have also come from members of other Christian traditions, Sister Shirley said.

Several Protestant churches in New Castle offered St. Anne Parish the use of their churches to celebrate Mass.

Sister Shirley said Masses will be celebrated in the cafeteria of the parish life center.

The Rev. Donald Lacey, the retired pastor of Yorktown United Methodist Church in Yorktown, Ind., learned

about the fire on the day it occurred and decided to send Sister Shirley a donation of $500.

A longtime participant in ecumenical activities, Rev. Lacey saw his contribution as an act of “obedience to our blessed Lord’s call to be one.”

“We’re all in this together and when one hurts, everyone hurts,” he said. “You need to pull together.”

Although St. Anne Church has been destroyed, Rev. Lacey sees the disaster as an opportunity, not only for the members of St. Anne Parish, but also for the wider Christian community.

“I’m really a great believer in the work of the Holy Spirit,” he said. “And I have a sneaky suspicion that this will be a means for good, to pull that congregation together, and will become the kind of thing where other Christians can help them. I would see this in time not as a negative, but as a positive.”

(Those interested in assisting St. Anne Parish may do so in several ways. Donations may be mailed to the archdiocesan Mission Office, P.O. Box 1410, Indianapolis, IN 46206. Donations can be made online by logging on to www.archindy.org and clicking on the banner at the top of the page. Donations can also be sent to Citizens State Bank in care of the “St. Anne’s Fire Fund,” 1238 Broad St.,

P.O. Box C, New Castle, IN 47362.) †

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