The state’s flags are flying at half staff this week in honor of those who lost their lives or were affected by what Kentucky’s governor describes as “the worst tornado event in state history.”
At least four storms ravaged Kentucky overnight Dec. 10-11. As of Dec. 13, 74 people were confirmed dead in nine counties and at least 109 people were still missing as search and rescue efforts continued, according to Gov. Andy Beshear.
The storms also nearly wiped out small communities. The town of Mayfield, Ky., which national news personalities have put on the map in recent days, and the community of Dawson Springs, with a population of 3,000, have seen significant losses — both of life and property. Both communities have Catholic churches that took heavy damage.
Mayfield Consumer Products, which runs multiple shifts during the Advent and Christmas season to make scented candles, was destroyed with 110 workers inside. Eight are confirmed dead.
After the tornadoes passed on Dec. 11, Bishop William F. Medley of Owensboro called on Catholics in his diocese to unite in prayer.
He also asked parishes that were able to take up collections at weekend Masses Dec. 11 and 12.
“Many of those injured in the Mayfield candle factory were parishioners, and others represented migrants and the marginalized in our communities. The Diocese of Owensboro, through our Catholic Charities office, would like to offer immediate help and services for those who are displaced or who have immediate emergency financial aid,” he wrote in a statement on his website.
“I am proud of the many ways that your generosity always allows the Catholic Church to respond to the suffering and to families in crisis,” he said to the people of his diocese. “So I thank you in advance for your generous response to this terrible devastation. God will bless our generosity.”
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz has asked Catholics in the Archdiocese of Louisville to help the Diocese of Owensboro by taking up a collection this weekend, Dec. 18 and 19.
In a letter to pastors Dec. 13, the archbishop said, “I join with all of the prayers of Catholics offered in parishes this weekend for the repose of the souls who lost their lives and for their loved ones. I pledge support for those who have lost homes, treasured possessions, and businesses due to these storms. May God’s tender love comfort those who are mourning so much loss.
“We have received many calls from parishes and individuals about how to help. I was in communication with Bishop Bill Medley over the weekend, and he was very grateful for the outpouring of support,” Archbishop Kurtz noted. “I am immediately sending financial support to the Diocese of Owensboro, and I invite all pastors to hold a special collection the weekend of December 18-19.”
The donations will be used to “respond to immediate emergency humanitarian needs and will aid in long-term rebuilding and recovery efforts as well as in any pastoral and reconstruction needs of the Church,” he said.
Archbishop Kurtz said in his letter that his prayers are in solidarity with those of Pope Francis.
News of the historic storms quickly reached Pope Francis, who prayed for Kentucky storm victims in his Dec. 12 Angelus and sent condolences conveyed by the Vatican secretary of state in a papal telegram.
Pope Francis “was saddened to learn of the devastating impact of the tornadoes,” it said. “He offers heartfelt prayers that almighty God will grant eternal peace to those who have died, comfort to those who mourn their loss, and strength to all those affected by this immense tragedy.
“With gratitude for the tireless efforts of the rescue workers and all engaged in caring for the injured, the grieving families and those left homeless, Pope Francis invokes upon all engaged in the massive work of relief and rebuilding the Lord’s gifts of strength and generous perseverance in the service of their brothers and sisters,” said the telegram.