A statue of Mary sits in the front yard of a damaged house in Moore, Okla., May 21, the day after a massive tornado devastated the town. (CNS photo/Adrees Latif, Reuters)
A statue of Mary sits in the front yard of a damaged house in Moore, Okla., May 21, the day after a massive tornado devastated the town. (CNS photo/Adrees Latif, Reuters)

Julie Carrick is halfway through her speaking and music engagements for the year with another 50 or so to go. The city names and layout start to blend in after awhile.

The people and their stories linger, especially from those she encountered this week. Their stories of loss, strength and hope could fill several books.

In some ways, those stories would be incomplete. The people of Moore, Okla. are only in the beginning stages of rebuilding after a deadly EF5 tornado — the strongest rating possible — hit the western suburbs of Oklahoma City May 20. The bulk of the devastation sits four blocks from St. Andrew the Apostle Parish.

Church grounds remained physically unharmed, but area families can’t say the same. It wasn’t until Carrick visited July 21 to offer a free “Healing After the Storm” concert that they took time outside of Mass to cry and laugh as a group.

“There was a seriousness and heaviness that wanted to be released,” Carrick said.

A man prepares to sit on a cooler while taking a lunch break on the foundation of his flattened home in Moore, Okla., May 21, the day after a massive tornado devastated the town. (CNS photo/Adrees Latif, Reuters)
A man prepares to sit on a cooler while taking a lunch break on the foundation of his flattened home in Moore, Okla., May 21, the day after a massive tornado devastated the town. (CNS photo/Adrees Latif, Reuters)

Carrick, who was at the same parish on Super Bowl Sunday for an event several years ago, had certainly seen the people of Moore, Okla. in happier times. This week, she saw 200 hands raised indicating they were physically affected by the tornado and 150 go up indicating they lost their home.

This year’s crops were a total loss too. The most efficient way to find and remove debris from the fields was by burning them, Carrick said.

“I felt just overwhelmed,” Carrick told The Catholic Sun. “I’m thinking they’ve lost their homes. They’ve lost their livelihoods. What am I going to offer them through music?”

Then she remembered what music combined with testimony, and especially paired with the sufferings of Christ, can offer those who are hurting. She began to play the piano and sing one of her title tracks, “Here in the waiting I’m scared. I do not want to give in to despair. Help me cope. Help me hope.”

Many of the 350 who attended were brought to tears. They managed to join in as she sang Psalm 91 identifying God as their refuge and fortress. Carrick shared her own experiences of great loss and how she worked through them.

“Suffering becomes sweet when we allow our suffering to be united with Christ’s suffering,” Carrick said. “They wanted to offer their suffering. They didn’t want to be saddened by it anymore. They wanted to go out and find that purpose [to their suffering].”

The tornado took a 14-mile path through two counties, but locals are recovering and helping each other. Fr. Jack Feehily, pastor, describes it as “full recovery mode” in an undated letter on the parish website.

Julie Carrick tours the tornado damage in Moore, Okla. July 21. The only evidence remaining for some homes is a driveway and part of a mailbox. (courtesy photo)
Julie Carrick tours the tornado damage in Moore, Okla. July 21. The only evidence remaining for some homes is a driveway and part of a mailbox. (courtesy photo)

Some are rebuilding. Some collected what remained of their belongings and moved to another part of town. Fr. Feehily’s letter said the parish has helped 250 individuals and households with the hundreds of thousands of dollars sent by “good neighbors…from all over the globe.” Funds are also helping restock two schools that were destroyed and providing furnishings for residents.

Pictures posted online verify the widespread outreach. One features recent hand-delivered funds from a Boy Scout in San Diego and another from “Couples for Christ” in Dallas. Early Catholic News Service reports highlighted efforts by the Knights of Columbus nationally, St. Vincent de Paul and local Catholic Charities.

Archbishop Paul S. Coakley said the latter two “are offering long-term case management to help storm survivors rebuild their lives over the course of many months to come.”

Fr. Feehily asked for continued prayer. They’re treasured and he ensured all donors would get a personal follow up.

“We are one body in Christ and we do not stand alone,” reads a message on the parish bulletin board. Cards and letters surround it.

Carrick plans to return to Moore, Okla. next spring alongside her husband, Kurt, who organized the first event as a total gift to the people. Donors from across the country, including one with ties to Oklahoma, sponsored the Carricks’ journey. Fellow vocal artist Doug Slater may join them for the next concert.

Catholic News Service contributed to this article.

Healing after the storm

Tax deductible donations to help residents of Moore, Okla. recover from the May 20 tornado can be directed through Carrick Ministries Foundation, www.CarrickMinistries.com, (602) 787-1397 or to St. Andrew the Apostle Parish, 800 N.W. 5th Moore, OK 73160.

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Ambria Hammel is the staff writer for The Catholic Sun. She began reporting for the award-winning newspaper in 2006.