GATLINBURG, Tenn. — Catholic parishioners in the Diocese of
Knoxville are among those who have lost homes and businesses in the wildfires
that ravaged tourist areas in the Great Smoky Mountains region, said Bishop
Richard F. Stika of Knoxville.
Midday Nov. 30, the diocese was still awaiting word on the
condition of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Gatlinburg, he said in a statement
posted on the diocesan website. Earlier, the diocese reported that the pastor,
Father Antony Punnackal, had to evacuate but was safe.
At least four people were killed and Associate Press reported
that an evacuation order was still in effect as firefighters monitored "a
few remaining hotspots." AP also said more than 150 buildings were
"The Catholic community of east Tennessee continues to pray
for those who have been affected by the terrible wildfires in Gatlinburg and
other communities across the region," Bishop Stika said. "We are
grateful for all the men and women who bravely put themselves in harm's way to
protect people and property that were in danger."
"I recognize that the good people of east Tennessee come
together quickly in times of need. The Diocese of Knoxville shares that
commitment," he added.
Bishop Stika asked that all parishes and mission churches in the
diocese hold a special collection at Masses the weekend of Dec. 3-4 to benefit
victims of the fires in Gatlinburg and across the region. The diocese also set
up an assistance fund for fire victims and was accepting donations online at
He reported that Mercy Sister Mary Christine Cremin, executive
director of Catholic Charities of East Tennessee, was leading efforts to help
many of the diocesan agency's clients in Gatlinburg and Sevier County and
anyone else in need of assistance.
The clergy and staff at Sacred Heart Cathedral and Sacred Heart
Cathedral School initiated a food drive to benefit fire victims, and supplies
were already on their way to Gatlinburg, according to the bishop.
"If conditions permit," Bishop Stika said, he planned
to celebrate Sunday Mass Dec. 4 at St. Mary's in Gatlinburg.
"I ask that your prayers continue for all the victims and
their families," he said.