Parishioners of Saint Luke the Evangelist Church in Raleigh gathered as a community Sunday, January 12, for the celebration of Mass at Saint Francis of Assisi Church in Raleigh. The parish was invited to use the Northwest Raleigh church after Saint Luke sustained extensive damage early Saturday morning, the result of a young man crashing an SUV into the church and setting a fire inside the sanctuary. The incident occurred shortly after 2:30 a.m., January 11.
Fire officials responded to the call and upon arriving found the vehicle crashed into the front doors of the church. They also found the body of a young man, whom they believe to be the driver of the vehicle, in the parking lot of the church dead of what, they say, appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Rev. Robert Staley, pastor of Saint Luke, a parish of 580 families, expressed his gratitude to Rev. Mark Reamer, OFM, pastor of Saint Francis of Assisi Church, for his invitation to allow the Saint Luke community to gather as one family in the aftermath of the tragedy.
In his homily, Fr. Staley spoke of the peace we have in Jesus, even in our broken world. “In the midst of our tragedy, Jesus is our peace,” Father Staley said.
In addressing the work before the parish community in rebuilding its church, Father Staley said, “The last thing we want to do at this time is stop being a light to others…. I believe we can be more of a light to others than ever. If we do that, it will be incredibly powerful for us, and it will be an incredibly powerful witness to the world.”
He asked the parish to pray for the young man who set the Church on fire. “We also pray for the family of this young man. We have a connection to them now,” Father Staley said. ”I am using available Saint Luke funds to give them a gift of much needed help. We are a parish of faith and love, and we want to share that faith and love with others.” The parishioners responded with spontaneous applause.
Raleigh fire officials have informed Father Staley and Rev. Msgr. David D. Brockman, Vicar General of the Diocese, that the main portion of the church will require extensive renovation before it can be used.
In a statement, the Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge said, “With great sadness, we have learned of the death of a young man and fire destruction to his family home and St. Luke Catholic Church. With all the parishioners of St. Luke Parish along with all in the Diocese, I offer deep sympathy to the young man's family and assure them of our prayerful support, especially at this time of tragedy. We also express our gratitude to all the rescue personnel and officials who arrived so promptly on the scene and will continue to pray for them as they carry out their work.”
Father Staley and parish officials are in the process of determining where weekend Masses will be held until renovation can be completed, which is expected to take months. Information regarding Masses in the future will be posted to the Saint Luke website as it becomes available.
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Above: Saint Luke the Evangelist Pastor Father Robert Staley with Deacon Mike Sanchez, left, at celebration of Mass held at Saint Francis of Assisi Church in Raleigh.
Above: Parishioners from Saint Luke the Evangelist, celebrating Sunday Mass at Saint Francis of Assisi Church following the extensive damage cause to their church on January 11.