The morning of one of the nation’s worst bus crashes, the Bishop of Maitland-Newcastle, Michael Kennedy, was laughing with one of the passengers about the wedding and day ahead.
Just hours later he was woken with the news of the terrible tragedy unfolding just 20 minutes away.
Ten passengers died and many others were injured on the bus, which was driving to Singleton from a wedding at Wandin Estate Winery in the Hunter’s popular tourist district on 11 June.
Just 10 km into their journey at around 11.30pm, the coach landed on its side on Wine Country Drive, near the Hunter Expressway off-ramp at Greta.
While two weeks have passed since the accident and just two people remain in hospital, the incident is still very raw in the minds of people in the region and beyond.
“As a church it is our role to give people the opportunity to not only express their grief over this terrible accident but also be buoyed by hope,” Bishop Kennedy said.
“That is where we are unique. We can deal with grief and provide hope at the same time.
“I was celebrating Mass in Singleton on the day of the accident and got talking to a lady who was very excited about getting on the bus and attending the wedding.
“I’ve only been here for four months but that was enough to give me a personal link to the terrible events that unfolded. Imagine how it is for those who have been here their whole lives.
“The woman I met survived and is ok, but I think that is typical of a regional area, everybody knows everybody or at least has a link to them.
“You find in these terrible situations no matter if you are in the city or the country, that they bring out the very best in people through faith, hope and love.
“Seeing the way people have come together really is very inspiring.”
Within hours of the crash, churches in the diocese opened their doors, offering a place to seek comfort and sanctuary, and will remain that way for as long as they are needed.
Prayer stations around the diocese have also been established, giving people the opportunity to light a memorial candle and gather in reflection while local clergy and chaplains remain on standby to offer pastoral care.
The diocese has also been working with its schools and services in Singleton and across the region to ensure it provides support needed to those in the communities.
Bishop Kennedy celebrated liturgies attended by hundreds of parishioners affected by the accidents at Sacred Heart Cathedral, Hamilton, and St Patrick’s Parish Singleton, last week.
Vicar-General of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle Fr Greg Barker said the church was giving the community now coming to terms with the accident a chance to heal.
“The church is giving people the opportunity and permission to come together and to grieve and be sad and talk about their feelings at this really difficult time,” he said.
“So many people have such mixed emotions about what happened, they are asking questions like, ‘How could it have occurred?’ and are looking for someone to blame.
“I would invite anybody to make a phone call to us if they need it, our churches are open, go and sit in one, there will be people around, talk to them.
“We can’t deal with this stuff on our own, we know that, we are not made to. So reach out, make a call.”
Bus driver Brett Button was charged with 10 counts of dangerous driving occasioning death, driving in a manner dangerous, and negligent driving (occasioning death) and will appear in Newcastle Local Court on 9 August.