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 CNS Story:

TORNADO-GREENSBURG (UPDATED) May-7-2007 (620 words) With photos. xxxn

Pastor seeks to console scattered flock after devastating tornado

By Catholic News Service

DODGE CITY, Kan. (CNS) -- With his church destroyed by a powerful tornado and his parishioners "scattered to the four winds," Father Gregory LeBlanc, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Greensburg, spent part of May 6 visiting the displaced in local shelters.

"It was so good to visit with a number of you Sunday in the shelters," Father LeBlanc said in a parish bulletin posted on the Web site of the Diocese of Dodge City. "I am at a loss as we look at what needs to be done now and what needs to be done in the future. God bless us and keep us together even as we are scattered about."

Tim Wenzl, media liaison for the Dodge City Diocese, said St. Joseph Church was destroyed in the May 4 tornado, with only a memorial bell and a statue of St. Joseph left standing in an exterior niche of a wall. But all 160 parishioners have been accounted for and no one was killed, he added.

Another Catholic church, St. Peter and Paul in North Ellinwood, lost its steeple and has a large hole in its roof, Wenzl said. The church, which was built in a rural area and predates the Second Vatican Council, had been closed but was being maintained as a heritage site, he added.

Bishop Ronald M. Gilmore of Dodge City asked for prayers for the people of Greensburg and other towns devastated by the May 4 tornado, which the National Weather Service classified as an F5 storm, with winds exceeding 200 mph.

"In addition to our prayerful support, I know that we want to be of whatever material assistance we can be," the bishop said in a May 7 statement. "Catholic Social Service-Catholic Charities for Southwest Kansas plays a distinctive role among community resources in responding to these crises."

Bishop Gilmore asked each parish in the diocese to hold a special collection or send funds from its general treasury to assist in the recovery efforts.

"Even as we are grateful that all parishioners of St. Joseph Parish, Greensburg, have been located, we mourn the loss of those who have died this past weekend and pray for the repose of their souls and for the comfort of their loved ones," the bishop said.

At least 12 people died in the tornado. Greensburg, a town of about 1,500 people, was about 95 percent destroyed, according to City Administrator Steve Hewitt.

Father LeBlanc, who also is pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Pratt and lived at the Pratt parish, planned to return to Greensburg sometime May 7, the first day that people were allowed in to assess their damages, Wenzl said.

In the parish bulletin, Father LeBlanc said the first Communion scheduled for May 13 had been postponed "until we can see our way through the present confusion." The bulletin listed the times for Saturday and Sunday Masses at other Catholic churches, located 25 to 45 miles from Greensburg.

The priest also said eight Catholic schools were prepared to take in any students displaced by the tornado, with all fees waived.

Catholic Charities USA sent an initial $10,000 emergency grant and was collecting donations to assist in long-term recovery efforts for tornado victims. "Catholic Charities USA's Office of Disaster Reponses remains in close contact with Catholic Social Service to determine what other assistance the local agency may need in the days and weeks to come," the Virginia-based agency said May 7.

- - -

Editor's Note: Contributions to aid tornado victims may be made by phone at: (800) 919-9338; on the Web at: www.catholiccharitiesusa.org; or by check to: Catholic Charities USA, P.O. Box 7068, Merrifield, VA 22116-7068.


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