Central Florida Faithful unshaken by storm

by Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic staff – September 20, 2017

ORLANDO | One of the most intense hurricanes ever observed in the Atlantic, Hurricane Irma left a permanent mark on Central Florida residents as it swept over the state the weekend of Sept. 9-10. In the midst of hurried preparations, anxious sheltering or evacuating, and post-storm damage assessment and recovery, diocesan parishes, entities, and members of the faithful answered God’s call to share one another’s burdens with love.

While many parishes cancelled Masses on Sunday, Sept. 10 out of concern for the safety of their parishioners, most parishes reopened Tuesday, even without power, to give their community a place to gather in prayer. Parishioners at St. Brendan Parish in Ormond Beach provided their own light through candlelight services for daily Mass until power was restored.

As people dealt with days without electricity and no promise of its quick return, parishes and entities sought to provide whatever relief they could, using the myParish app or social media accounts to reach out to parishioners. Most Precious Blood Parish in Oviedo posted “Free ice while it lasts” to their social media accounts and on the sign in front of the parish entrance. Music Director Mark Sibons said, “I was led by the Holy Spirit. I was blessed not to have damage at my own house so I got to thinking and praying about what I could be doing. I knew this was something people needed.” A steady stream of residents saw the announcement and stopped in with coolers and bags to get relief. He said the sign also led people to bring supplies for others in need. “It’s been a great community effort.”

Hope CommUnity Center in Apopka co-hosted a community cookout with Florida Rights Restoration Coalition providing a hot meal for those without power. Pastor Father Tom Connery of St. Peter’s Parish in Deland reached out to his parishioners and sent pizza to those without electricity. Annunciation Parish in Altamonte Springs provided bagels and beverages to offer comfort for those without power.

St. James Cathedral School in Orlando met its families’ need for power by providing a place to charge cell phones while getting respite from the heat. They were following the lead of diocesan education secretariat director Henry Fortier. In an email to all diocesan school administrators he said, “As we open our schools we are doing it in a compassionate way as families have been devastated by this storm… As a community of faith we must move forward with compassion for our families.” Schools that reopened immediately were asked not to count absences or cover new material in order to avoid further hardship.

While some schools remained closed the week following Irma, it did not stop students and parents from volunteering for storm clean-up on their parish and school campuses. The Bishop Moore Catholic High School Girls’ Lacrosse team came to the aid of the San Pedro Spiritual Development Center, whose vast property had much debris and whose outdoor chapel sustained roof damage.

In the weeks since the people of the Diocese of Orlando rallied together in prayer and support of victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, they now turn their hearts and hands to their own neighbors in what will be a long period of recovery. Bishop Noonan’s recent prayer to people affected by Hurricane Harvey now also gives consolation to all who were in the wake of Hurricane Irma: “Our hearts and prayers go out to the families that have lost loved ones and to all who have lost homes and businesses along with their sense of peace and normalcy. We pray for the first responders as they minister to those who are suffering. We ask God to enlighten the eyes of our heart that we might bring hope to His people.”

Parishes needing assistance with hurricane recovery can contact the Office of Risk Management at 407-246-4877, tdann@orlandodiocese.org or the Office of Design and Construction at 407-246-4870, constructionadmin@orlandodiocese.org.