Tennessee has once again been visited by tragedy. Twenty-four people, including 18 in Putnam County, three in Wilson County, two in Davidson County and one in Benton County, were killed in the early morning hours of Tuesday, March 3, when a tornado roared its way across the state.
Homes, churches and businesses were damaged or destroyed. For some, all that is left is a pile of rubble. Others, reduced to a concrete slab, have even less remaining.
But within minutes after the tornado passed, Catholics joined the rest of the community to offer help and hope to those hit the hardest.
In the Diocese of Nashville, Putnam County had the greatest loss of life when the tornado, at its strongest point, touched down near the town of Baxter, just west of the county seat of Cookeville. Among its victims were children as young as 3 years old.
In the Nashville area, the tornado ripped a path of destruction through the North Nashville, Germantown, East Nashville, Donelson and Mt. Juliet communities, felling trees, flattening homes, knocking out power, and shaking historic structures.
The Church of the Assumption, built in 1859 in the historic Germantown neighborhood, sustained significant damage. St. Vincent de Paul Church in North Nashville and Holy Name Church in East Nashville also sustained damage when the tornado passed by.
Pastors, parish staff and fellow parishioners across the diocese quickly sprang into action, checking to make sure everyone in their communities were safe and trying to determine what the families hit hardest might need.
Catholic Charities of Tennessee began working with Metro and other community organizations to assess the needs of the people hurt by the tornado and planning long-term assistance.
The Knights of Columbus jumped in with a promise to raise funds and materials to help as well as offering their hands to do the hard work of cleaning up.
Holy Rosary Church, spared any damage to its facilities from the tornado, opened its doors to its neighbors in the Donelson community. Holy Rosary became a Red Cross shelter for families who lost their homes.
Other parishes, such as Holy Name, Assumption, St. Stephen in Old Hickory and St. Thomas Aquinas in Cookeville were busy in the days after the tornado offering material and moral support for their neighbors in need.
And individual Catholics from across the diocese jumped up to offer their help wherever and whenever they were needed.
Pope Francis’ description of the Church as a field hospital never seems more apt than in situations like the one the Diocese of Nashville finds itself in now. As Catholics we are called to accompany all those who are suffering, easing their physical pains as well as meeting their spiritual needs.
We are called to be the face of Christ to all we meet, those who are members of our faith community and those who are not. As the saying goes, we help others not because they are Catholic, but because we are Catholic.
Our help must not be limited to material assistance. We must offer up our prayers that those who are suffering in the face of such a devastating loss will find hope. We must pray that those who have lost so much will find in Christ the strength to keep going, to rebuild, to restore.
It will be a long, difficult road for many, but as a Catholic community we are ready to accompany them on their journey.