Editor’s Note: The Oct. 20 Southern Nebraska Register shared the sad news of the devastation wildfires had on the Diocese of Santa Rosa, Calif., where Lincoln Diocese priest Bishop Robert Vasa serves. Below is his most recent (Oct. 28) update to the people he shepherds.
The threat of fire has ceased and now the long and arduous job of restoring and rebuilding must begin. Yet, before anything can be rebuilt there is the necessary task of assuring that all toxic materials remaining within the confines of the burned out foundations is removed and disposed of properly. In the case of a single home, the task would be quick and easy. With an estimated 6,000+ homes and businesses in need of waste remediation the task will be neither quick nor easy.
People are now being allowed to return to the sites of their former homes to search for any memento which might have survived the blaze and to grieve their loss. The evacuation centers have served their emergency purposes, and those evacuees who had not lost their homes have returned home. For those who have nowhere to go the shelters remain as a short-term option but the number who have resorted to living on the streets or in their cars is unknown. Fortunately many souls have stepped forward to offer trailers, second homes or spare rooms to those who have been displaced by the fire. The human toll and the depth of the need will be realized only in the weeks and months to come. Besides the dramatic loss of homes, in Sonoma County it is estimated that 1,500 businesses have been destroyed which translates, by one estimate, to 8,500 to 9,000 jobs. This will impact the entire county and the Catholic parishes and Christian churches in this county.
The National Guard which has been an invaluable security presence in addition to the local police are winding down their operations and I want to take this opportunity to once again reiterate the community’s gratitude for their presence and service. Of course, the local police will be called upon more heavily once the Guard leaves and recognition of and appreciation for their often valiant service cannot be mentioned too often. The same can be said of both the local fire fighters and the thousands who descended upon our area in the wake of the devastating events of Oct. 8-9. Daily, I hear of story after story of the life-risking actions of police and firefighters as they entered areas from which most were fleeing in order to facilitate a safe escape.
One of the faith-based experiences referred to quite often is the fact that a number of private chapels, religious artifacts or statues were spared while all surrounding structures were destroyed. This was the case on the campus of Cardinal Newman High School. Undoubtedly thousands of homes had every trace of religious artifact destroyed but the exceptions were notable. One lady told me yesterday that she went to the ashes of her former home to search for a necklace which her departed husband had given her. She recounts that as she sifted through the ashes where she thought the desired object might be hidden, she picked up a small, pocket-sized wooden cross from the midst of the ashes which was blackened but not destroyed. Once she found that, she rejoiced and told me that she had found all that she needed. She knew, in faith and in fact, that the Lord had not abandoned her. The occasional ‘miracle’ wherein some religious object is spared provides to each of us an opportunity, like this dear lady, to rejoice in the midst of the ashes, that the Father, that Jesus, that Mary have not abandoned us.
The ‘miracles’ are more numerous than we can count: Miracles of bravery, miracles of safe escape, miracles of homes or religious icons being spared, miracles of resilient hearts, miracles of outstanding generosity, miracles of selflessness. While they may often be accounted for by way of a rational explanation we still find in these events a sign of God’s presence and love and, as all of you who read this also are, signs of hope. God bless all of you.