Priest prayed as bushfires engulfed surrounding hills

Fr Albert Wasniowski (The Catholic Leader)

Fearing for the safety of pilgrims, a Queensland priest prayed in the middle of the night at a shrine on the Gold Coast hinterland surrounded by fire. Source: The Catholic Leader.

“I was on my knees with the rosary beads in the chapel and praying for protection from Heaven,” Pauline Father Albert Wasniowski said.

More than 25 visitors slept in cabins at the Shrine of Our Lady Help of Christians, in the Marian Valley bushland, as firefighters arrived to warn Fr Wasniowski to prepare to evacuate.

It was 2am on Saturday, and Fr Wasniowski said Marian Valley was lit up by flying embers, and he could see eerie, thick smoke.

“That was quite scary,” the 51-year-old Polish priest, who was encountering his first Australian bushfire, said. “It was close, it was very close. “We were prepared for evacuation, staying on alert. It was so windy. The embers were flying and that meant fires could start at anytime, anywhere.”

As well as considering the safety of dozens of retreat guests, Fr Wasniowski said he was prioritising what he could take with him – the Blessed Sacrament, relics, documents, and data stored on computer.

“The main bushfires were in surrounding valleys of Canungra and Beechmont-Binna Burra,” he said. While Marian Valley was engulfed in smoke, it was miraculously spared from flames on the ground.

Fr Wasniowski said he was forced to cancel celebrations for the Feast of Our Lady’s Birthday planned for later that morning.

However, many churchgoers arrived for a celebration of Mass led by the visiting Wilcannia-Forbes Bishop Columba Macbeth-Green – the former rector of the shrine.

“The road was closed, and police were standing there. But as soon as they mentioned they were going to the Marian Valley the police let them in,” Fr Wasniowski said.

“An amazing thing – about 180 people came. We had Mass – only for the ones who had faith and courage and came. Then I sent them away because the situation was too dangerous.

“Our Lady did protect us. I believe we are in good hands.”

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Marian Valley priest prayed on his knees as bushfires engulfed surrounding hills (The Catholic Leader)

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