December 1, 2022 | Local News
Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than

Fr. Carl McCarthy, pastor of Christ the King Parish in Madisonville, Ky., is pictured March 2, 2022. His parish collected donated items to help people get started in new homes following the tornadoes that devastated nearby towns in December 2021. CNS PHOTO/BOB ROLLER

Helping people on their own terms: Why listening is crucial when accompanying survivors


According to a pastor whose Madisonville parish was among the first groups to assist people impacted by the Dec. 10, 2021 tornadoes in western Kentucky, the virtue to keep in mind when assisting survivors is “humility.”

“Humbling ourselves before the needs of another and not assuming we know what they need – but listening and asking what they need” is crucial, said Fr. Carl McCarthy, the pastor of Christ the King Parish in Madisonville.

His parish was not impacted by the storms, but only 30 minutes down the road, Dawson Springs and surrounding areas were reduced to shells of their former selves.

Fr. McCarthy told The Western Kentucky Catholic in a recent interview that after any disaster, people often feel motivated to purge their closets and donate items they no longer need, for use by disaster survivors.

“In and of itself that’s not bad,” he said. “But in every disaster, that may not be what people need up front. We might think ‘They don’t have anything, so I’ll give them my old things.’”

In reality, “everyone’s needs are different,” said Fr. McCarthy, with emphasis on helping individuals on a case-by-case basis informed by listening.

“The intent is good – we want to respond to a need – but we don’t always know how to respond in the best way,” he said.

One year later, Fr. McCarthy still remembers “the faces of shock” of people who came to the distribution center set up in Christ the King’s school gym.

“They just needed someone to love them, to hug them, to show that someone cares – and the willingness of the person who was helping to connect them with a way to address their needs,” he said in a Nov. 10, 2022 interview with the WKC.

Fr. McCarthy learned the importance of this approach when he participated in a mission trip to the areas affected by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

While there, they had the opportunity to celebrate Mass and eat dinner with the bishop at the time, then-Bishop Thomas J. Rodi of the Diocese of Biloxi, Miss. (He has since become archbishop of Mobile in Alabama.)

“He told us ‘If you do not lift one hammer, do not move one tree limb… if you will only listen to our people tell their stories – it’s in allowing them to tell their stories that they will be healed,’” Fr. McCarthy recalled the bishop saying.

Fr. McCarthy said it takes “time and patience to sit and listen.”

“We’ve got to be willing to walk and accompany them on the journey,” he said.

“People’s basic element is ‘I want to help,’” he said. “That’s God-given and that is good! The key is helping in the right way.”

Originally printed in the December 2022 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.

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