Media and Communications Office
This week marks 10 years since the Black Saturday bushfires hit Victoria. The loss of life and the extent of devastation was horrific. As the bushfires raged and reports came in, people across Australia and throughout the globe offered fervent prayers for the victims.
In response to the tragedy a Bushfire Recovery Chaplaincy Committee was set up to oversee the influx of volunteers and facilitate regular and wide reaching reports on the disaster and the recovery effort. Australian Catholics donated nearly $4 million to the cause.
Mazenod College students lend a helping hand to clean up properties devastated by the Black Saturday bushfires.
Bushfire recovery chaplain Fr Bourke said ‘People want a visible presence, to know the Church is walking beside them even when their local church is burnt down.’
The initial response team from the church included Archbishop Denis Hart, Fr Joe Caddy and many other key Victorians who visited survivors, assessed their needs and offered help and hope.
CatholicCare also became a very important part of the recovery efforts. Their hard work they helped victims for many years after the events of Black Saturday as part of a long-term recovery project.
‘As the church we are a group within the community and we have a commitment to reach out into the community and contribute to it, and to do so humbly and generously,’ Archbishop Hart said.
The Bushfire Recovery Chaplaincy Committee assisted with the coordination of volunteers and collaborated with the Catholic Education Office in Melbourne to support affected schools.
Fundraising efforts by St Anthony’s Glen Huntly, 2009.
Parishioners across Australia banded together to help. St Mary’s Parish Whittlesea Bushfire Relief, established by Fr Maurice Cooney, raised more than $100,000 and stored six large containers of food, clothes and other goods for bushfire survivors.
Mary Ann Von Struppi, a bushfire survivor told Melbourne Catholic ‘Saturday 7 February 2009 was surreal—oppressively hot, eerie, devoid of all life. It unfolded into a nightmare of unimaginable destruction; a day seared into the hearts of all.’
The Catholic response to the tragedy continues even now, a decade later, with special commemorations being held today in both St Patrick’s Cathedral and other churches across the Archdiocese to honour both victims and survivors.
Many in the Whittlesea community will attend the memorial happening today at a local community garden and the Christ the Light Parish is holding a Bushfire Memorial service on Saturday 9 February. Special masses will also be held in St Patrick's Cathedral at both 7.00am and 1.00pm today in memory of those who lost lives and loved ones in this tragedy 10 years ago.