Fire Ravages Florida Catholic Church

March 22, 2013
The All Saints Catholic Mission church sustained about $60,000 in smoke and water damage, mostly to its interior, after a fire broke out in the structure.

March 21--OAKLAND PARK -- A fire ravaged the All Saints Catholic Mission on Powerline Road, melting its tabernacle and two big-screen televisions on either side of its altar, but leaving unharmed and soot-free the "smiling Jesus" picture in the center of the damage.

"We call it a miracle. Everybody else will call it just a coincidence or good luck," said Father Bob Caudill, pastor of the church that is better known for its soup kitchen a block away that feeds the homeless daily. "It's just a sign that everything's going to be fine."

About $60,000 in interior damage, mostly from smoke and water damage, was caused by the blaze reported shortly after 3:30 a.m. Wednesday, according to city fire officials. Fire crews barely had time to finish their work before volunteers began arriving to help clean up the commercial building turned sanctuary.

The workers included church volunteers, homeless people showing up for breakfast or dinner at the soup kitchen, and people driving by who saw the damage and stopped to help. Others donated food for the workers or money for repairs.

"It's unbelievable the people that are coming together to bring [the mission] back on its feet," said Chad Rutkowski, a volunteer at the soup kitchen who was busy scrubbing the mission's walls Thursday.

Soot that covered the walls, pews and floors was mostly gone by Thursday afternoon. Volunteers continued painstakingly cleaning statues and other church items and tossing out debris. Professional cleaners from Service Master also showed up, sent to the church by a woman who called in and paid for their service.

Caudill said the donations were needed.

"We don't have insurance on the building because we own it outright. I've been using the insurance money [to run] the soup kitchen," Caudill said.

Fire officials are still investigating the cause of the fire, although Caudill said he suspects it may have been related to the electrical wiring. He plans to hold Palm Sunday services at the mission as scheduled this Sunday.

Ron Roy, a regular at the soup kitchen since December, said he was helping with the clean-up because of everything Caudill has done for him and other homeless people.

"He just wants to keep us off the streets and safe," Roy said. "I live two hours down the road walking and I still come here because of him ... He's almost like a real father."

Caudill said he opened the mission in 1990. It is not affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church.

Although he said many of his church-goers showed up in tears, Caudill had a more positive outlook.

"These are things that can be replaced. We're the church," Caudill said. "Things will be better now. The electric will be new. The windows will be new."

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Copyright 2013 - Sun Sentinel

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