Fr. Andrew Schoenberger

Fr. Andrew Schoenberger

May16, 2016
GLEN ARGAN
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

LAC LA BICHE - Father Andrew Schoenberger calls himself an evacuee just like the more than 80,000 other people driven from Fort McMurray in the wildfire than emptied the city.

However, unlike many others, he's not looking for a place to put up his feet until he can return to his regular job.

The work of a priest never ends.

"A shepherd should be with his sheep," says the young pastor of Fort McMurray's St. John the Baptist Parish. "I want to be somewhere where I can be helpful to them, be useful to them.

"The evacuees are going to need someone to grieve with them, to hear their stories."

So, he and Pallottine Father Prabhakar Kommareddy (Father Reddy), pastor of the city's other parish, St. Paul, have set up shop in Lac La Biche to minister to both evacuees from Fort McMurray and the local Catholic community, which is currently without a resident priest.

More than 4,000 evacuees have registered in Lac La Biche (pop.: 2,500). Lac La Biche is 290 kms south of Fort McMurray.

Schoenberger's ministry began almost immediately after he was forced to evacuate the city while attending a meeting looking at potential summer camps. He managed to rescue a seminarian working at his parish, Jahack Diaz, and then discovered four parishioners, whose home had been destroyed, walking down the road.

So began a journey that took him to Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.'s plant, then to an airstrip where he caught a flight to Edmonton, stayed with family for a couple of days and moved on to Lac La Biche Friday evening.

"There were times when it was heart-wrenching, and I shed a couple of tears," he told the WCR Saturday afternoon. "It's tough on me, but I know it's tougher for many other people."

THE HOPE OF CHRIST

Schoenberger's goal is straightforward: "I just want to bring people the hope of Christ and to know there is light at the end of the darkness. There is reason for hope."

In the interview and later in his homily at the 5 p.m. Mass, he noted the Church has a liturgical season prior to Easter and another one afterwards. The first one, Lent, represents the penance and suffering we experience in this life; the post-Easter season represents everlasting life in God's kingdom.

"This is the Lent of life, but we do know that the sorrow and suffering comes to an end, and the hope of the resurrection and the kingdom of heaven is awaiting us."

Schoenberger has only been pastor at St. John's Parish since September, but also served there from 2007 to 2009, immediately after his ordination.

GLOBAL PARISH

Parishioners come from all over Canada and all over the world, including a large contingent of Filipinos. "It's a beautiful community."

The people bring their deep faith and differing expressions of Catholicism and enrich the whole. But, he says, the diversity is also a challenge. Bridges need to be formed among the various ethnic groupings so that they don't segregate themselves.

Schoenberger said he has been awed by the amount of support from across Canada and even further afield that has come to the evacuees.

The people of Lac La Biche have also been very welcoming. "People here are definitely showing that Christian love and support."