'God is with us:' Fort McMurray priest leads first Sunday mass since wildfire | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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'God is with us:' Fort McMurray priest leads first Sunday mass since wildfire

Fort McMurray evacuee Gloria Trottier, centre, falls to the floor after participating in the "laying of the hands," a blessing and healing tradition in the Christian faith, acted out by church member Daniel Barker, right, at the Word of Faith Family Church, in Lac la Biche, Alberta, Sunday, May 8, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch
May 08, 2016 - 1:12 PM

LAC LA BICHE, Alta. - Worshippers, many with red eyes and weary expressions, filed Sunday morning into a modest brown church on the southern shores of Lac la Biche, Alta.

Like many of those gathered for mass, Rev. Andrew Schoenberger is far from home and doesn't know when he'll be able to return to fire-ravaged Fort McMurray.

Schoenberger had a message for those who, like him, have been displaced by the massive wildfire.

"We may be tempted to think, 'Well Jesus left us.' But Jesus did not leave us," he told the congregation at Saint Catherine's Roman Catholic Church.

"Indeed we have seen Christ through the kindness and the love and the generosity of so many people who have opened our arms to us. Even in the midst of tragedy. ... God is present, God is with us."

Some in the congregation showed the signs of the stress caused by the evacuation.

A man in shorts, flip flops and a fleece jacket appeared dazed as he slowly dipped his fingers in holy water by the door, made the sign of the cross and shuffled to his seat. A woman in the pews dabbed at her eyes with a tissue.

Schoenberger fled north from Fort McMurray on Tuesday when a city-wide evacuation order was issued, picking up five other people on the way. He left his car at Canadian Natural Resources' Horizon oilsands site and managed to catch a flight south to Edmonton.

This weekend, he came to Lac la Biche, a normally sleepy hamlet about halfway between Edmonton and Fort McMurray that has taken in thousands of wildfire evacuees. On Sunday afternoon, he was scheduled to attend a service in Conklin, about 90 minutes north.

He said he understands St. John the Baptist church in downtown Fort McMurray is still standing, as is another one in the neighbourhood of Thickwood.

Toward the end of the service, Schoenberger read aloud a message sent Friday from the Vatican.

"The Holy Father was saddened to learn of the destruction and distress caused by the extensive fires around Fort McMurray, and he assures you of his prayers for all the displaced, especially the children, who have lost their homes and livelihoods," read the letter signed by Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

"He asks God to bless civil authorities and those co-ordinating evacuation and shelter for the homeless, as well as for strength and perseverance for all who are battling the fires."

To anyone whose faith has been shaken by the disaster, Schoenberger said: "This too shall pass."

"We have many crosses and challenges in our lives, but they do pass and we always have hope that God is in control, that there is going to be a future beyond this," he said.

"All of the tragedies and things in my own personal life, the difficulties I've had, I have moved through it, I have moved on, even though ... sometimes in the midst of this I have said 'How can I possibly get through this? This is too much for me. this is too much for us.'

"And God still never failed to get us through and I know he'll get us through this too."

— Follow @LaurenKrugel on Twitter

News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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