Parish priests in the storm-struck areas of western England do their best to assist those families forced from their homes by floodwaters, reports Anna Arco
BISHOPS OF dioceses in some of the areas most affected by last week's heavy flooding have instructed parish priests to do their best to help the victims.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham said: "I have been in touch with each of the parishes in the areas of the Archdiocese of Birmingham that have been most badly affected by the recent flooding. I am confident that the priests and the parish communities are playing their part in the local effort."
There are quite a number of affected parishes, according to Peter Jennings, press officer for the Archdiocese, especially in Worcester and Oxfordshire.
In Bishop Declan Lang's Diocese of Clifton, priests and parish communities were working together to help one another.
The bishop said: "I have been in contact with parishes in the affected areas, offering my assurances of prayers and expressing my concern for people who are so badly affected. I also expressed my appreciation of the practical help given by parishes. The many people who are working tirelessly to help the stranded, to restore the drinking water supply and to resolve the problems with the electricity supply are also in my prayers and those of many people in the Clifton diocese and beyond."
Clifton diocese includes Gloucester, where 340,000 people were without fresh water, and Tewkesbury, which was completely cut off by the water.
Fr Richard Dwyer, the parish priest at St Joseph's, Tewkesbury, said: The spirit in the community here in Tewkesbury is very positive. So many people helping and supporting one another is, to me, an example of the Holy Spirit at work. I see determined people pulling together."
There were about 30 people at Mass at St Joseph's on Sunday, as most of them had already been cut off by the floodwaters, Fr Dwyer said. When he heard that the doctor's surgery near Tewkesbury Abbey had been flooded, he tried to get in touch to offer the facilities at St Joseph's.
He said there had been a sense of a strong community working together, that the neighbouring Anglican parish was offering to put people up. "Of course, when those evacuated return to their homes, their need for help in rebuilding their homes and lives is something that will demand our full attention and support," he said.
In the Tuffiey area of Gloucester, Fr Keith Miles was hard at work phoning his parishioners to make sure they were all right, and if he couldn't reach them by telephone he went to see them in person. Priest and parishioners were working together to help as much as they could.
Fr Miles travelled to Bristol on Monday to stock up on bottled water, where he noticed it was already in short supply. He distributed most of it among his neighbours and parishioners. A local firm belonging to a parishioner delivered several pallets of drinking water that had been donated by a Somer. fields in York. 'Together with the Anglican parish at Quedgeley, which is close to us, we are coordinating help together and I have offered the use of our church to the police and local authorities for people who have lost their homes. At the moment our electricity has been restored but the water ran out overnight. How long we keep the electricity is anyone's guess," Fr Miles said. "Fortunately the church has not been flooded but the water was only 100 yards away."
The floods were the worst that England has seen in 60 years and caused mass evacuation. Bishop Lang knows there are more problems ahead. "Having spoken with priests and people in Gloucestershire, it is the community spirit that is coming through at such a difficult tirne that is so impressive...it is when people return to their houses, will we discover what needs they have and then respond as best we can," he said.
Bishop Crispian Hollis of Portsmouth said: "Like everyone else, I have been continually shocked as I have watched the news reports on the flooding which is now affecting parts of our diocese. Everyone affected, whoever they are and wherever they live, are in my thoughts and players at this very distressing time.
"In situations like this, communities pull together. look after each other and especially looking out for those most vulnerable and less able to deal with the situation for themselves. I am sure that, where appropriate, our parishes will make their resources available to their local communities. I want to express my admiration and gratitude to the emergency services, including especially those who have come to the flooded areas from other parts of the country. I have been in touch with the priests in most of the areas affected and I will be in Abingdon soon to see for myself and to meet people there."