Bishop of Tennessee finds inspiration amid rubble after Catholic agency burnt down

Flashlight in hand, Bishop Richard F. Stika of Knoxville, Tennessee, was walking through the fire damaged administrative offices of Catholic Charities of East Tennessee when he came across a small wooden crucifix hanging on a wall with a rosary draped over it.

The bishop was inspired to see that amid the rubble of the one-story building on December 1, the iconic objects remained intact.

“There was no soot on it,” he told Catholic News Service after his hour-long tour to see damage from a November 28 nighttime fire that firefighters investigators determined to be. arson.

“I took the rosary. I have it with me now,” he said.

Bishop Stika said he plans to frame the crucifix and rosary so that it can be displayed in the building once the damage from the fire is repaired and employees are back in months. .

Police discovered the fire when responding to an alarm in the building at around 10:30 pm They found a broken window and smoke billowing from the building north of downtown Knoxville.

Firefighters at the scene found a can of gasoline and a box of matches near the window the assailant smashed to enter, Bishop Stika said.

The fire destroyed much of the interior of the building, and smoke and water damage was widespread in all areas spared by the flames, the bishop said.

The interior of the building is a total loss, but the structure has remained intact, he added. The value of the damage is undetermined.

“It makes you nauseous,” Bishop Stika said.

In addition to the administrative offices, certain services were offered at the establishment, located in a neighborhood that has experienced some revitalization in recent years. The building housed the Knoxville Pregnancy Help Center, run by Catholic Charities, and a shop where women could purchase discounted items for infants.

A diocesan spokesperson said about 10 full-time people work in the building alongside dozens of volunteers who serve around 100 clients.

Employees have moved to a nearby thrift store and pantry operated by Ladies of Charity and Holy Ghost Parish, a few blocks away, to continue their operations.

“We are now looking, if the city allows us, to hire a trailer and put it in the parking lot (of the damaged building) so that the women can continue to come,” said Bishop Stika.

Catholic Charities staff and volunteers were on hand when the bishop arrived, greeted him and explained how they continue their programs.

“It was my main goal,” said the bishop of his visit. “I wanted them to know that I care about me and that the diocese cares, and we are there for them.”

Fire investigators continued to search for the person (s) responsible.

Bishop Stika was uncertain whether the fire was started by someone with “some sort of vendetta” against Catholic charities or the Catholic Church.

Vandalism has hit Catholic sites across the country in recent months with damaged statues, tombstones in overturned cemeteries and fires started in some facilities.

“We will be more vigilant,” he said, adding that the diocese had advised its parishes to strengthen security measures.

“The saddest thing about all of this is that anyone, male or female, if they get caught, they’ll go to jail,” Bishop Stika said. “If they want revenge or show anger… they’re going to have to live with that. This building is a building of hope that touches a lot of people.”

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