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Slowly recovering after bushfire disaster

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While catastrophic bushfires in late December and the impact of COVID-19 this year have placed enormous strain on the Adelaide Hills community, the local Catholic parish is doing its best to ensure people “do not feel forgotten”.

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Parish priest Fr Fred Farrugia said it had been difficult times for locals as they were just starting to pick up the pieces from the bushfires when the coronavirus pandemic hit.

“At the moment my ministry is much more about providing emotional support rather than financial, so I have been listening to people’s stories, remembering them during the streaming of Masses and including them in the Prayers of the Faithful,” he said.

“Even with social distancing we are trying to let them know that they are not forgotten and I am trying to help as much as possible.”

Earlier in the year members of the parish rallied together to support the Blaze Aid team which was rebuilding fences in the areas badly affected by the fires. A group of parishioners joined others from local churches on a roster to prepare meals for the volunteers who were based at the Lobethal Oval. However, all work stopped when social distancing measures were introduced.

Golding Wines at Lobethal was one of the wineries in the region badly impacted by the bushfires and then the closure of its venue facilities due to the pandemic was another huge blow.

Connie Golding, who along with husband Greg are regulars at Lobethal and Birdwood Masses, said things had been “pretty grim” for the winery, which is now operated by son Darren and his wife Lucy.

There was no harvest this year as the grapes were smoke tainted and COVID-19 had forced the cancellation of weddings and other events at the venue. However, Connie said there was no point “crying over spilled milk” and on the day when the bushfires ravaged the area there had been some positives.

“The good Lord was looking over us as the house wasn’t burnt and the barn wasn’t destroyed,” she said.

“It’s a small community up here and everyone is very friendly. Fr Fred has been great through all of this, he’s provided a lot of support, by just listening and asking how we are.”

When churches were closed due to the pandemic, Fr Farrugia said he “prayed for guidance” on how to keep his parish – which was still hurting from the bushfires – connected during the challenging times ahead.

He soon found himself dusting off a video camera he had purchased a few years ago and started filming reflections to share with his flock.

”When I listen back on those early first days, it doesn’t sound like me,” he laughed.

“I was nervous as I wasn’t sure if technically I was doing the right thing. However, I felt called to do it and I knew that people wanted to connect with me. The second reflection had about 230 people listening and seemed to resonate with parishioners and others.”

As Holy Week approached his prayers were again answered when a parishioner offered his company’s services to live stream the Easter Triduum.

“It wasn’t the same experience celebrating these important liturgies with empty pews,” Fr Farrugia admitted. “But through feedback I received from a lot of parishioners you discover that God works in mysterious ways.”

In a move welcomed by the older members of the community, the parish continued to produce The Bridge newsletter which was sent via email rather than as a printed copy.

Fr Farrugia said the St Martha’s Meals project was another way members of the community were supporting each other in these difficult times. This initiative sees a group of parishioners cooking a three course meal every week, which is then delivered by Fr Farrugia to others in the parish who need some extra help.

Meanwhile, despite some inclement weather and inevitable impacts on business of COVID-19, the parish’s new St Mary of the Adelaide Hills Hall alongside St Matthew’s Bridgewater continues to take shape and remain on track for its opening later this year. In recent weeks the exterior brickwork – a very close match to the bricks of the church’s façade – was completed.

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