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Church praised for offering ‘Gospel hospitality’ as shelter during storm

Two weeks after historic flooding killed two and impacted many others in Ellicott City, the Archbishop of Baltimore offered a Mass at the church that served as a refuge during the storm.

“Many of you volunteered to comfort and assist those most affected by the flooding,” Archbishop William E. Lori told parishioners during his homily on 13th August at a vigil Mass at St Paul’s, located a stone’s throw uphill from the devastation. “So please accept my warmest thanks for your neighbourly kindness, which is also a wonderful example of the Gospel hospitality.”

The archbishop asked the congregation to remember in the day’s Mass “those who died and those who still suffer, even as we ask God’s blessings on efforts to rebuild those parts of town that suffered the heaviest damage.”

Archbishop Lori concelebrated with Conventual Franciscan Fr Michael Heine, director of the Shrine of St Anthony’s in Ellicott City, with assistance from Deacon Joseph Knepper of St Paul’s. Fr Warren Tanghe, parish priest of St Paul’s, was on retreat.

With everyone preoccupied with water, Archbishop Lori crafted his homily around the fire of the Holy Spirit, which he said “enkindles in our hearts a genuine zeal for the Gospel – a burning desire to share the good news of Jesus with others.”

“This doesn’t mean we become zealots who drive everyone from the dinner table,” he explained. “It means, rather, that by word and example, we bear witness to the power, the freedom and the joy that is ours as followers of Christ.”

The archbishop concluded with a prayer to the Holy Spirit for assistance “in these difficult days and in difficult days to come.”

Though many of the parishioners were not directly affected by the flooding, they expressed concern for those who were.

“It’s sad,” lector Joseph Gagliardi told the Catholic Review, Baltimore’s archdiocesan news outlet.

His wife, Diane Gagliardi, noted that one of her fellow singers has a son who had been a chef at one of the destroyed restaurants.

“He already has another job,” she said, though she added that another acquaintance owns one of the restaurants.

“He’s not sure what he’s going to do,” she said. “It’s tough.”

Her husband said that he had “every confidence that Ellicott City will be back, stronger than ever,” noting that the historic city had bounced back from serious floods before.

Ellicott City is about 12 miles west of Baltimore. The origins of the 19th-century mill town date to 1772; it has more than 200 18th and 19th-century buildings.

Deacon Knepper said that though many parishioners weren’t directly impacted by the most recent flooding, all have felt the effects in one way or another.

“It’s thrown everybody off their normal routine,” he said, adding that his formerly five-minute commute to St Paul’s is now 15 to 20 minutes because downtown Ellicott City remains closed.

He called the flood “surreal, in a sense.”

“It always happens to somebody else, and now it has happened to us,” he said.

Parishioner Chris Hennigan said that there has been “a real eagerness to help the community.”

Deacon Knepper emphasised the importance of prayer.

“There’s so much devastation down there,” he said. “Our hearts and prayers go out to these people.”

The parish has assisted materially, as well. In addition to serving as a haven for the dozens fleeing the rushing waters on 30th July, the parish has since collected several thousand dollars to help with relief and rebuilding efforts, according to John Papania, its business manager.

Other regional Catholic parishes have held or will hold special collections.

Papania added that the Ellicott City Partnership, the local business association of which he is a board member, had, as of 9th August, collected approximately $250,000 in donations, many from faith-based organisations.

Picture: The Archbishop of Baltimore, William E. Lori, greets parishioners following Mass at St Paul’s Church in Ellicott City, Md. on 13th August. The church provided shelter during flash floods that severely damaged the historic city on 30th July. (CNS photo/Kevin J Parks, Catholic Review).