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Bishop says devastating bushfires show generosity of human spirit

This month's South Australian bushfires, which claimed the lives of nine people, have caused devastation to the lives, homes and livelihoods of affected communities, but also shown the generosity of the human spirit, according to Bishop Eugene Hurley of the South Australian Diocese of Port Pirie.

"It's been absolutely devastating for these people," Bishop Hurley, whose diocese was hit by the fires. "It would just break your heart."

But Bishop Hurley said he had been touched by the generosity shown by those who escaped the fires.

"People have just been turning up with truckloads of hay and unloading them, not wanting any payment or fuss, just leaving them there and then heading back off," he said.

"It's extraordinary the generosity that is being seen and I would like to thank all those people for their support."

Bishop Hurley has spent much of the last weeks with the Eyre Peninsula communities hit by the fires, offering Masses and a time for prayer and reflection in the midst of such devastation.

He attended an ecumenical prayer service in hard-hit Cummins last Saturday and stayed on to celebrate Mass the next day.

Volunteer firefighter Trent Murnane, 30, will be buried today with a service at the Catholic church in Cummins. Mr Murnane leaves behind his wife Paula, 24, and baby daughter Chloe.

"It's been a terribly intense time," said Bishop Hurley. "So these community gatherings and brought a great sense of healing. People needed to be together."

In light of this, Bishop Hurley has asked that ashes from the fires be collected and used throughout the Diocese on Ash Wednesday as an act of solidarity with the victims of the fires.

"The sense of loss which the diocesan family is experiencing as we think of our relatives and friends suffering such devastation convinced me that this would be a most appropriate sign to the victims that the whole diocese is united with them in their grief and in their healing," Bishop Hurley said.

Cummins parish administrator, Salesian Father Shaji Joseph, told the Catholic Leader that Mr Murnane was "a very fine man - a community-minded man who had a love of football and a great love of the community."

Counsellors were helping the community come to terms with what had happened, but Fr Joseph said he did not think the full impact of the tragedy had sunk in for many people.

He said the church is on the edge of town, and would have been among the first properties affected had the fires reached the town.

Passionist Father Peter Gardiner, who is relieving in Port Lincoln parish, said many parishioners were affected.

"Some have lost their homes, some everything but the clothes they were wearing," he said.

St Vincent de Paul Society secretary-treasurer in Port Lincoln, Maurice Barry, said the conference was combining with the Salvation Army and other community groups to centralise the provision of clothes, furniture and food.

"This is probably going to drag on for months," he said. "We've got furniture but people haven't got houses to put it in."

Donations can be sent to the St Vincent de Paul Society, 98 Liverpool St, Port Lincoln, SA 5606.

Bush fires leave devastation, but reveal the generosity of the human spirit - Bishop Eugene Hurley (Australian Catholic Bishops Conference 25/1/05)
Town buries victim of tragic fire (The Advertiser 27/1/05)
Fires tragedy strikes parish (Catholic Leader 23/1/05)

Hundreds honour a hero of the bushfires (The Advertiser 28/1/05)

27 Jan 2005