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Queensland Catholics look to the hope of Easter hope in the wake of Cyclone Debbie

Proserpine Church

Destruction and hope: The inside of St Catherine’s Church, Proserpine, after Cyclone Debbie caused the ceiling to collapse. Photo: Supplied.

FR Jose Koyickal was looking forward to a special Easter full of hope in Proserpine despite the destruction swathe Cyclone Debbie cut threw his Whitsunday parish.

Cyclone Debbie destroyed houses, farm sheds and equipment, and damaged the sugar cane crop around Proserpine.

It caused major damage and flash flooding in tourist hotels and businesses in nearby Airlie Beach and Whitsunday island resorts.

The entire Whitsunday region has shifted into recovery, even though power is still not connected in some places.

Fr Koyickal has his own repairs to attend to.

The ceiling collapsed in St Catherine’s Church, Proserpine, allowing major water damage and forcing Mass to be shifted to a nearby parish hall.

Despite the hardship, Fr Koyickal, originally from India, said this was “a very special Easter for me and for all parishioners”.

“I am used to struggle. All my life as a missionary, when I was in Fiji, there were cyclones and military coups,” he said.

“It’s like when we are carrying the cross, it is passion for us.

“It is good spiritual preparation for Easter.

“After all, the Resurrection will take place … with hope and trust.”

Fr Koyickal said the greatest gift from God following Cyclone Debbie was sending parishioner Robin Knowles offering to help others clean up.

“He came to see me after the cyclone passed and asked if I needed a hand,” he said.

“There was damage to the church and a clean-up was needed, so he set about helping me.

“It was only later that I found out that during the cyclone, Robin had lost the roof off his house, and he had nowhere to go.”

Fr Koyickal offered Mr Knowles a room in his presbytery.

It’s called the “Bishop’s room” and it’s usually reserved for visiting Church officials.

Fr Koyickal and parishioners

Full of hope: Fr Jose Koyickal with parishioners 99-year-old Thelma Porter and Robin Knowles who helped with the church cleanup after Cyclone Debbie. Photo: Supplied.

This week, Fr Koyickal was expecting a morale-boosting visit from Townsville’s Bishop-elect Tim Harris.

They were preparing for a dinner open to the entire parish.

Because of the damage, Fr Koyickal was also planning to hold this year’s Easter Vigil in the hall at St Catherine’s College, Proserpine.

In Rockhampton, Bishop Michael McCarthy saw the Risen Christ a week early in his community, who banded together for the first day of the post-flood clean-up.

“The Risen Christ of Easter is evident in the Rockhampton community as all have assisted us during this time of flood by the marvellous assistance of neighbours and from our emergency services,” Bishop McCarthy said.

The clean-up of the region started on Monday, April 10, but Bishop McCarthy said the extent of damage was still unknown.

“A few families at Clarke Creek have lost everything and there was a substantial amount of damage at Sarina, Eton, Nebo and Midge Point,” he said.

“Many people and bishops have sent their prayers during this time, and their generosity in assisting those affected.”

Bishop McCarthy was grateful to readers of The Catholic Leader who had offered prayers and support.

“I am grateful to all of the readers of The Leader for their best wishes to the Rockhampton community, and may the Risen Christ lead us during these weeks and months ahead,” he said.

By Mark Bowling and Emilie Ng

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