A year of resurrection for tornado-devastated communities

Photo Caption: As Father Stephen Willard, left, and Father Julius Turyatoranwa look on, Barbara Walsh and her son Sean squirt holy water at the entrance of their family’s newly rebuilt home in Washington on Nov. 14.

By: By Tom Dermody

With prayers and displays of gratitude, celebrations of new beginnings, and continuing service to those in need, communities in the Diocese of Peoria devastated by tornadoes on Nov. 17, 2013, marked the first anniversary of the storms that changed thousands of lives and spurred incredible generosity.

“We know how uncertain many things are in this life,” said Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, in opening remarks at a Mass last Sunday at St. Patrick Church in Washington, the hardest-hit community. “But something that is unshakeable in our lives is our faith in God and the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

“Please know that your fellow Catholics have been praying with you and for you, and for your neighbors, here in Washington and the folks in Pekin, East Peoria, and near Rantoul,” said Bishop Jenky.

In his homily, Father Stephen Willard — pastor of St. Patrick as well as St. Monica in East Peoria — expressed gratitude to all who offered assistance to the community and parishes. In the city of Washington, more than 600 homes, seven businesses, and seven apartment buildings were destroyed by the EF4 twister — the strongest tornado ever documented in November in Illinois. The storm caused three deaths.

“After a year, I think we can say we have risen to bless our Lord throughout this time of tragedy and suffering,” said Father Willard, quoting a verse from the opening hymn “O God Beyond All Praising” that reads “we will triumph through our sorrows to rise and bless him still.”

Father Willard noted that, in recent weeks, he and Father Julius Turyatoranwa, parochial vicar, have been busy blessing rebuilt and restored homes. The Catholic Post accompanied them for three home blessings on Nov. 14. (See related stories.

He shared the joy of “seeing people smiling again in their new homes. We bless them with God’s presence, knowing the foundation of that home is Christ Jesus.”

Father Willard also thanked the parish tornado relief team and parish staff overseeing the massive relief effort. In the months after the storm, St. Patrick received more than $600,000 in gifts from around the country to assist parish families, including more than 160 whose homes were destroyed or badly damaged.

“We know as a people at St. Patrick’s we’ll never let anyone be in need or anyone be alone because we are St. Patrick’s — one heart, one mind in Christ,” he said.

Meanwhile, in Gifford — a Champaign County village where dozens of homes were destroyed by a half-mile wide EF3 tornado — residents packed St. Paul Lutheran Church for a community service.

“Even when the tornado was at its worst, there was a sense of God’s presence and his care,” said the Rev. Steven Lombardo, pastor.

Following the service, residents shared a meal presented by St. Malachy Parish in nearby Rantoul as well as St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and the host venue, Gordyville.

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