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Faith comes to the forefront on Sunday in Joplin

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Families pick up the pieces in Joplin
  • Sunday marks the one-week anniversary of the EF-5 tornado that hit Joplin, Missouri
  • A memorial service is being planned, and a moment of silence will be held at 5:41 p.m.
  • A Catholic priest, whose church was destroyed, lauds the enthusiasm and goodwill
  • A local Christian official says the twister has strengthened many people's faith

(CNN) -- Sunday has long been a day for reflection in Joplin, Missouri, with residents flocking to churches and other places of worship for guidance, understanding and a sense of community.

Now, several of those churches are gone, as are scores who might otherwise be going to them, thanks to a horrific tornado that ripped through the southwest Missouri city one week ago. That makes this Sunday especially significant, not to mention the subsequent days, as religious leaders try to offer meaning after such a senseless disaster.

"You could see ... the challenge they are going to face, as they preach funerals in the weeks to come," Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said after meeting faith-based leaders this week. "It's enormous."

Nixon, along with President Barack Obama, will be among those attending a special memorial service at Missouri Southern State University for the 142 killed (as of Saturday evening) and thousands more affected by the tornado.

Obama to view Joplin tornado damage

Then at 5:41 p.m. -- exactly one week after an EF-5 tornado, with winds over 200 mph, first touched down -- the city will go silent.

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That moment will be a stark contrast to the fury the Rev. Justin Monaghan experienced as the twister barrelled toward St. Mary's Catholic Church. The 70-year-old pastor got in a bathtub at the church, put his face down and prayed.

When the winds ceased, Monaghan found himself trapped in the rubble -- where he remained until some of his parishioners rescued him, unscathed.

While he's still coming to grips with what happened, Monaghan said he believes that good will come out of this tragedy and in fact already has.

"God allows things to happen that we don't know why," the pastor said earlier this week. "But when we look back, we always hear the good things that happen as a result."

That positive energy was on display Saturday on the church grounds. There, parishioners and volunteers picked through the debris looking for items to salvage, Monaghan said. One found the pastor's Bible, and another was able to save his golf clubs.

Two tornado-wracked towns unite through tragedy, charity

"The enthusiasm was unbelievable, even as people were shedding tears," Monaghan said. "It's just wonderful to see."

On Sunday, Monaghan said he will celebrate Mass at St. Peter's, another Catholic church in Joplin. And if and when his church is rebuilt -- something that he expects will happen, with the parish council's support -- the pastor said a 6-foot cross that somehow braved the storm will be a part of it, behind the altar.

"We wouldn't dream of not using that," he said.

The Bridge Ministries, a nondenominational Christian youth organization, has opened its doors to schools, relief agencies and churches in need of space. They include members of St. Paul's United Methodist Church, which will hold their Sunday services at the ministries' center after their own facility was severely damaged in the storm.

Dan Mitchell, the organization's president, said he has been impressed that so many people, from near and far, offered help. Food, water and clothing have come in everything from car trunks to tractor-trailers, he said, and the center's parking lot has transformed into a distribution point for supplies.

Meanwhile, Mitchell said that locals directly affected have seen their faith strengthened in the past week.

"Faithful Christians who understand that God creates order from chaos have stood up and done what it takes," he said. "They have given up their lives. If they come up against roadblocks, they get around them and they get it done."

CNN's Jacqui Jeras and Mike Pearson contributed to this report.