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Joplin, Missouri: One Year Later View Comments
By Jeannette Cooperman

A wooden altar, cross and statue are all that remain of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Joplin, Mo., after a tornado ripped through the city on May 22, 2011. The church building, rectory, school and parish hall were destroyed.

AT 5:38 P.M. ON MAY 22, 2011, sirens screamed through downtown Joplin, Mo., just minutes ahead of the country’s deadliest tornado in 50 years. Father J. Friedel ushered his new Indian assistant, Father Shoby Mathew Chettiyath, to the rectory basement and tried to explain what a tornado was.

When the winds calmed, Father Friedel crossed over to the beautiful, old white-stone church of St. Peter the Apostle. “The tornado touched down on Rangeline,” he told the handful of parishioners, urging them to check on any family or friends in that part of town. Then he said a quick, fervent Mass.

He didn’t know the extent of the damage until he emerged from the church and heard someone say the hospital was gone.

“What do you mean the hospital’s gone?” Father Friedel asked, unable to imagine the seven floors of St. John’s Regional Medical Center collapsing — let alone Joplin High School, Walmart and thousands of houses and businesses. The tornado had sheared away a wide swath of Joplin, just 12 blocks to the south of St. Peter’s.

Father Friedel worked all night, unlocking the Catholic high school so it could be used as a triage station, wheeling the injured in office chairs, organizing supplies and checking on parishioners and his colleague at Joplin’s other Catholic church, St. Mary’s.

Father Justin Monaghan, 70, had taken shelter in a bathtub in the rectory, and St. Mary’s Catholic Church had fallen to pieces around him. By the time the winds stopped, only the church’s large cross — and its pastor — remained intact.

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Jeannette Cooperman is a staff writer at St. Louis Magazine. She’s won regional and national awards for her features on social issues, health, religion and education.

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John Paul II: “Open wide the doors to Christ,” urged John Paul II during the homily at the Mass when he was installed as pope in 1978. <br /><br />Born in Wadowice, Poland, Karol Jozef Wojtyla had lost his mother, father and older brother before his 21st birthday. Karol’s promising academic career at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University was cut short by the outbreak of World War II. While working in a quarry and a chemical factory, he enrolled in an “underground” seminary in Kraków. Ordained in 1946, he was immediately sent to Rome where he earned a doctorate in theology. <br /><br />Back in Poland, a short assignment as assistant pastor in a rural parish preceded his very fruitful chaplaincy for university students. Soon he earned a doctorate in philosophy and began teaching that subject at Poland’s University of Lublin. <br /><br />Communist officials allowed him to be appointed auxiliary bishop of Kraków in 1958, considering him a relatively harmless intellectual. They could not have been more wrong! <br /><br />He attended all four sessions of Vatican II and contributed especially to its <em>Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World</em>. Appointed as archbishop of Kraków in 1964, he was named a cardinal three years later. <br /><br />Elected pope in October 1978, he took the name of his short-lived, immediate predecessor. Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. In time, he made pastoral visits to 124 countries, including several with small Christian populations. <br /><br />He promoted ecumenical and interfaith initiatives, especially the 1986 Day of Prayer for World Peace in Assisi. He visited Rome’s Main Synagogue and the Western Wall in Jerusalem; he also established diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel. He improved Catholic-Muslim relations and in 2001 visited a mosque in Damascus, Syria. <br /><br />The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, a key event in John Paul’s ministry, was marked by special celebrations in Rome and elsewhere for Catholics and other Christians. Relations with the Orthodox Churches improved considerably during his ministry as pope. <br /><br />“Christ is the center of the universe and of human history” was the opening line of his 1979 encyclical, <em>Redeemer of the Human Race</em>. In 1995, he described himself to the United Nations General Assembly as “a witness to hope.” <br /><br />His 1979 visit to Poland encouraged the growth of the Solidarity movement there and the collapse of communism in central and eastern Europe 10 years later. He began World Youth Day and traveled to several countries for those celebrations. He very much wanted to visit China and the Soviet Union but the governments in those countries prevented that. <br /><br />One of the most well-remembered photos of his pontificate was his one-on-one conversation in 1983 with Mehmet Ali Agca, who had attempted to assassinate him two years earlier. <br /><br />In his 27 years of papal ministry, John Paul II wrote 14 encyclicals and five books, canonized 482 saints and beatified 1,338 people. <br /><br />In the last years of his life, he suffered from Parkinson’s disease and was forced to cut back on some of his activities. <br /><br />Pope Benedict XVI beatified John Paul II in 2011, and Pope Francis canonized him in 2014. American Catholic Blog Lord, may I have balance and measure in everything—except in Love. —St. Josemaría Escrivá

 
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