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Church reaches out to fire families


Assistance with school fees, providing uniforms and counselling are just some of the practical measures being offered by the Church to families affected by the devastating fire at Thomas Foods International’s abattoir in Murray Bridge earlier this month.

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At a special gathering at St Joseph’s School on Sunday January 28, Archbishop Wilson and Vicar General Fr Philip Marshall met with families from the local Vietnamese and Filipino communities who have been directly impacted. Members of the local parish and school community also attended as a show of support.

The Archbishop told the families his heart was “bleeding” for them when he was watching images of the January 3 fire on television.

He said he wanted those affected to know that the Church was there to support them in what he described as a “changing crisis”.

“We want to help you,” he said. “We are making a response at the moment, we will look at the questions you are facing today and work with you and the different challenges (in the future).”

Local parish priest Fr John Herd estimated about 160 families in the parish – most from the Filipino, Vietnamese, Chinese and Malaysian communities – have been “immediately and seriously” impacted by the fire. Many are on 457 temporary work visas in which they are sponsored by an employer to work in Australia and without work they would be forced to return to their home country.

While some employees have already been relocated to the company’s Lobethal facility, many are still facing an uncertain future, unsure if they will be transferred to another abattoir in Tamworth or retain their job.

Some at the gathering spoke of earning less money at Lobethal and the increased travel which reduced time with their families. Others said they had no income as their annual leave entitlements had been exhausted.

“We are very concerned about your terrible experience,” Fr Marshall told the families. “We can’t fix everything but we want to show that we care about you. People in our parishes are praying for you.

“Don’t be hesitant or embarrassed about seeking any of our Church services. We are one family in the Church and when some of us are hurting, the rest of us support them.

“You are not alone and there are many in the community and people here to support you. There is strength in our Church.”

As a practical measure, Fr Marshall told them that he and the Archbishop had spoken with St Joseph’s principal Adrian Brown and Catholic Education SA director Neil McGoran to ensure there would be assistance with fees if families were in financial difficulty.

They are also liaising with Centacare Catholic Family Services to determine the various support that could be provided, but Fr Marshall said as a starting point people who were feeling frightened and worried might consider accessing their counselling services. He also mentioned assistance could be sought from St Vincent de Paul Society.

Since the fire, the St Joseph’s school community has been collecting second hand uniforms for families in need.

Mr Brown said the response from the community had been overwhelming and in some instances people had even purchased new shoes for students. He told families that the school also offered the Kickstart for Kids program which provided students with a free breakfast.

Archbishop Wilson expressed his thanks to Fr Herd and Fr John Vildzius and to all parishioners, members of the Catholic Women’s League and the school community who attended the gathering on a day of extreme heat to show their support.

“It’s wonderful to see how the community has gathered around you,” he said.

The plight of the families impacted has also been canvassed with the local MP Adrian Pederick. Shortly after the fire occurred last month, Fr Herd met with Mr Pederick to discuss the problems facing the families, particularly rental agreements which are fixed for six or 12 month periods.

Fr Herd said it was important in times of crisis that employers and the government ensured the interests of workers and their families were well looked after.

“Catholic Social Teaching encourages us to build a more human economy, where workers and those in need have an adequate share in society’s resources,” he said.



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