Following the disastrous bush wildfires in Australia, Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart has appointed Fr. Greg Bourke as Bushfire Recovery Chaplain as part of the Church’s “sustained effort” to help victims of the fires.
The Bushfire Recovery Chaplain will be a liaison between state and civil authorities, key Catholic agencies such as the Catholic Education Office (CEO), Centacare Catholic Family Services and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
He will also collaborate with parish priests and pastoral teams in the affected communities, a statement from the Archdiocese of Melbourne reports.
Archbishop Hart said the Catholic Church’s presence in affected communities during the initial crisis and recovery stages will need to go beyond its normal presence.
“The Church in Melbourne is committed to a sustained effort to meet the pastoral, welfare and education needs of the affected communities and to the rebuilding of those communities over the coming years,” Archbishop Hart said.
The Catholic Education Office (CEO) has waived school fees for 2009 for families that have lost their homes and is providing additional funds to assist with educational and relocation costs. CEO psychologists and counselors are available to support teachers and students of Catholic schools in the affected areas.
Centacare, the welfare arm of the Catholic Church in Australia, has offered the Australian Department of Human Services professional social workers and psychologists to help meet the needs of affected communities.
Fr. Bourke will also work to coordinate with priests and pastoral teams in parishes in unaffected parts of the archdiocese to help them support and assist parishes and religious communities in the fire ravaged areas.
Fr. Bourke will connect with individuals and families displaced by the brushfires as well as help those families who need extra assistance for funeral services.
On Tuesday Archbishop Hart visited communities in the fire zones around Healesville, Tarrawarra, Alexandra and Yea. In Healesville he spoke with emergency personnel and told them of his enormous admiration for their work.
Voicing his concern for the wellbeing of priests and pastoral teams in the affected areas, he said on Wednesday, “They have been working tirelessly and selflessly in what are exceptionally demanding circumstances… I wanted to give them my encouragement and remind them that they are human too and that they also need our care and prayers.”
The archbishop has also announced the committee which will advise him on the management of funds raised in the Catholic Archbishop’s Charitable Fund Bushfire Appeal.
Saying he was conscious that it will take many years for the communities to recover from the trauma and destruction of the bushfires, Archbishop Hart said he wanted to make sure that the donations are used to directly assist affected communities “both immediately and over the coming months and years as they courageously take up the challenge of recovery and rebuilding their lives and communities.”
Over 180 people were killed in the recent fires, some of which were started by arsonists.