The memories of the fires that raged in our counties one month ago are still fresh. The month has passed quickly and there are many good things happening but the trauma and the displacement continues. Some clean-up has begun and there is a glimmer of hopefulness in that. Contractors from a broad area are being contacted to enlist crews for the massive rebuilding effort which needs to be undertaken. Those things are happening and must happen on a macro-scale.
The Church’s efforts are more closely directed to a micro-scale. The effort is to touch individuals and individual families who are the subjects of the loss. We can easily lose sight of the fact, at the macro-scale, that all of the work, the clean-up, the rebuilding, the restoration of infrastructure has at its center very real persons who have suffered loss and who continue to suffer.
In this moment I am reminded of Pope Emeritus Benedict’s beautiful words in paragraph 31 of his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love): “Yet, while professional competence is a primary, fundamental requirement, it is not of itself sufficient. We are dealing with human beings, and human beings always need something more than technically proper care. They need humanity. They need heartfelt concern.”
The presence of Catholic Charities, Saint Vincent de Paul Societies, various pastors of all faiths, faith communities and other charitable organizations assures that this ‘humanity’ is present. Pope Emeritus Benedict continues: “Those who work for the Church’s charitable organizations must be distinguished by the fact that they do not merely meet the needs of the moment, but they dedicate themselves to others with heartfelt concern, enabling them to experience the richness of their humanity.”
It seems to me that this community, which spans four counties, has manifested and continues to manifest precisely this kind of distinguished care, a care which not only meets the needs of the moment but which also manifests a genuine, heartfelt concern for their brothers and sister who suffer.
I pray that this marvelous spirit of cooperation, patience, perseverance and care continues to abide in this broad community afflicted by the fires. The support offered by an even broader national community is also a sign of solidarity and of that much needed ‘heartfelt concern’.
Thank you and God bless all of you +Robert F. Vasa
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 October 8-9. Daily, I hear of story after story of the life risking actions of police and fire fighters 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 +Robert F. Vasa
I am reaching out to you to offer information regarding public services and assistance for individuals and families affected by the wildfires in northern California. The weblinks to the guides below are in English and Spanish and provide detailed information about the types of federal, state and local disaster assistance services available in California.
Although some of the resources are restricted to individuals or households with lawful immigration status, there are many services available to all Californians impacted by the wildfires.
One of the most pressing issues is a looming deadline to apply for Disaster CalFresh (food stamps) this benefit is available to all qualifying families, however the deadline to apply is Wednesday November 1, 2017.
Our hope is that as a trusted source of information you could leverage your close connections with the community to encourage those in need to take full advantage of the program available to them. A message to congregations during weekend services would be extremely helpful in this effort.
If you have any questions or would like to discuss additional outreach resources or programs please let me know.
Thank you in advance for your assistance with this very important information.
Deputy Director of Public Affairs and Outreach Programs
California Department of Social Services
The week of October 9 – 16 will go down in California history as the week of the most destructive wildfires to date. It is impossible to enumerate the various ways in which families and individuals have been impacted. In general, there is loss of life and of loved ones which, while a cause of grief, has been a mercifully low number.
There is loss of property especially the loss of homes and businesses. Communities may understand the experience of the loss of a dozen or more homes but Santa Rosa suffered the loss of 3,500 to 4,000 homes and possibly more. One recent count claimed that more than 6,700 distinct buildings have been destroyed in Santa Rosa and its immediate surroundings. Clearer numbers are not yet available. We can all recognize and sympathize with the extremity of the grief associated with the loss of a home. Support and outreach to those who suffer this grief is essential and there are agencies, including the Churches, which are organizing to be available for those who will suffer and live with this grief for a long time.
The fires also erupted in Lake County which was horribly damaged by severe wildfires two years ago. The Sulphur Fire, which burned in or near the communities of Clear Lake Oaks and Clearlake, was responsible for the loss of 136 residences not counting associated outbuildings. The Parish at Clearlake did not report any damage but the emotional and economic impact on that parish will not be known for some time.
The loss of property includes those who have lost their businesses and / or their place of employment. The loss of two large resort or hotel venues in Santa Rosa is an immediate economic loss of those businesses but it entails the loss of several hundred jobs for those engaged in the service industry. The number of homes destroyed in Napa County is not yet clear. Napa, like Sonoma County, suffered similar loss of major business enterprises, including wineries, which has a ripple effect on those associated with these venues. One story reports that 22 wineries in Napa and Sonoma County have been destroyed.
The toll on families is not yet known. Our Catholic Schools of Napa, Sonoma, Santa Rosa and Healdsburg have indications that some of the school families, including teachers and aids, have lost homes and businesses. I have no direct information about Saint Mary’s in Ukiah (Mendocino County) but the fire could well impact our School and Parish families there as well. Cardinal Newman High School in Santa Rosa reports that of the 620 students approximately 100 have suffered the loss of their family home. Saint Rose Elementary reported that of their 250+ students 29 had lost their homes. I have not yet heard from the other schools but I pray that the numbers and the percentages are much smaller in other locations. These two schools suffered direct fire damage which other schools did not but there are undoubtedly Catholic School families in each of the Catholic Schools in Sonoma, Mendocino and Napa Counties who have also suffered a direct loss.
While my focus is on trying to maintain a safe and secure learning environment for those children affected by the fires who are in our Catholic Schools, I am by no means ignoring the suffering of many thousands of children in these counties who have been traumatized by the fire. My focus, however, is concentrated on our Catholic Schools since these are tuition based and the children of these families should not be deprived of their “School Family” at a time when they need the familiar setting of the school, heir teachers and their friends. The resources of the public school, since they are not based on tuition, will not be lost for the children who attend these schools. Our Parishes will be focused on attending to the spiritual and emotional needs of the families associated with them as well as any who are in need of assistance.
Coordination with and through Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa will be important. Saint Vincent DePaul also has a strong presence in the area and pastors have been connected with this great Catholic Organization as well. In this work it must be recognized that no single agency or organization, even FEMA, can singlehandedly deal with the enormity of the challenges faced by the fire affected areas. We will all do what we can but must also humbly recognize that we cannot do it all.
The good news is that the threat of the fire spreading is now almost entirely contained and there is hope of some modest rain this week. The very difficult and practically overwhelming need to provide safe, long term and sustainable housing and shelter for thousands of displaced persons now stands before us. Housing in Sonoma and Napa Counties was already at a premium before the fire and the need for housing, particularly low cost affordable housing, has now risen exponentially. Coping with the extent of this need is beyond the capacity of the Church or, perhaps, even local government.
As a Church I look to do three things, limited as this response may be. I look to engage the local Catholic Community in a mode of long term ‘accompaniment’. Simply standing with those who suffered loss is an act of great compassion. This needs to be done largely through our Parish Communities. The flurry of news stories will soon dissipate but the real, day to day needs, worries and uncertainty will persist in our local community and in our parishes for years. This we cannot forget.
As a more immediate response to an immediate need I am walking with our Catholic School personnel, especially but not exclusively Cardinal Newman and Saint Rose, to help assure that tuition subsidy resources are available for those children whose families have been affected by the fire. It is my hope that no family feels compelled to have their child leave any of our Catholic Schools due to a change in the family’s economic condition. Thus, my fundraising efforts, local and national, will be directed largely toward tuition support for all of our Catholic Schools, whether affected directly or indirectly, by the recent fires.
I also want to plan for the need for additional resources to assist those parishes indirectly touched by the fire. Parishes whose families have been displaced may find themselves short of operating capital. We know well that these parishes survive solely on voluntary offerings. It is possible that offerings could decline while the expenses continue unabated. If necessary, I want to be able to assist them when their reserves are diminished.
If you view this on our Diocesan web page you see various ways in which donations can be sent and received. If you receive this as a text or email please go to: www.srdiocese.org/signofhope
There has been a great outpouring of support and encouragement and I find that I must now appeal in a more direct and formal way for the extension of a helping hand. I pray that God blesses you for your prayers and support. The challenges ahead of us are great and you are needed. +Robert F. Vasa, Bishop of Santa Rosa
Cardinal Newman High School Community Benefit Saturday October 21, 6:00 – 10:00 p.m.
St. Vincent de Paul High School in Petaluma invites you to a Community Benefit for Cardinal Newman High School families, faculty, and staff that have been affected by the fires. Please join Saint Vincent de Paul High School for a Spaghetti Feed and Raffle benefitting the Cardinal Newman families, faculty and staff that have been affected by the fires.
6:00 – 7:00 p.m. Mass in DeCarli Gym Adjourn for Spaghetti Feed in Monsignor Tillman Hall
7:10 p.m. Blessing of the Meal
10:00 p.m. Evening Concludes
$20 per person No-host bar. Beer, wine and cocktails will be available. 100% of the proceeds will benefit the Cardinal Newman community.
DeCarli Gym and Monsignor Tillman Hall Saint Vincent de Paul High School 849 Keokuk Street, Petaluma, CA 94952
Please click here to RSVP by October 19, 2017:f you have questions please Claudia Thompson, [email protected]
Update from Bishop Vasa October 14th 2017 (Saturday)
Friday the thirteenth, superstitiously a day of bad luck, fortunately did not live up to its reputation since it was a relatively calm day and progress was made in corralling the fires. Saturday morning is another issue. Higher winds have fanned the flames near Oakmont, Sonoma and Santa Rosa resulting in new areas of mandatory evacuation. Among the new evacuation areas is Holy Spirit Parish. Anxieties in these areas are again elevated as we wait and pray for a diminishment of the winds and containment of the fires. Lord, keep the residents and the responders safe.
The Holy Father’s condolences for the victims of the wildfire in California, 13.10.2017
(Friday October 13th, 2017) The following is the telegram of condolences for the victims and those affected by the wildfire currently causing devastation in California, United States of America, sent by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin on behalf of the Holy Father to H.E. Msgr. Salvatore Joseph Cordileone, archbishop of San Francisco, and to H.E. Msgr. José Horacio Gómez, archbishop of Los Angeles.
The Most Reverend Salvatore Joseph Cordileone
Archbishop of San Francisco
The Most Reverend José Horacio Gómez
Archbishop of Los Angeles
Informed of the tragic loss of life and the destruction of property caused by the wildfire in California, the Holy Father assures you of his heartfelt solidarity and his prayers for all those affected by this disaster. He is especially mindful of those who mourn the loss of their loved ones and who fear for the lives of those still missing. His Holiness offers encouragement to the civil authorities and emergency personnel as they assist the victims of this tragedy. To all he sends his blessing.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin
Secretary of State
Update from Bishop Vasa October 12th 2017 Thursday
He Is Present to Us
Psalm 89 forms a part of the Office of Readings, the official prayer of the Church, for today, Thursday, October 12. There we read this plea for help: How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your anger burn like a fire? Remember, Lord, the shortness of my life and how frail you have made the sons of men.
Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman writes that joys and privileges, blessings really, which we routinely enjoy are better appreciated when they are gone than when we had possession of them. “Sometimes at the last moment, when mercies are about to be withdrawn, when it is too late, or all but too late, a feeling comes over them that something precious is going from them.” He is talking of access to God and the grace of repentance. It seems to me that it fits with our situation today.
It is a grace which “makes them so unwilling, just at the last moment to give up those privileges which they have so long possessed without valuing or using.” When the threat of losing all material possessions becomes real we realize how much we take for granted. When all else is lost there is a renewed realization that, as we have heard from so many news reports, we still have our lives and our loved ones. These we have “possessed” for so long without properly valuing them.
God, too, is with us always often without our appropriately “valuing or using” him, without our giving to him even that hint of gratitude. The spontaneous outcry to God, heard very often in these days of trial, carries the note of worry that somehow this is punishment.
I want to assure you that this is not how the good God operates.
Any sense within us, however, which brings that question to our minds and hearts, can be attributed to the loving action of our God. It leads to a cry of desire to be in a newer, better relationship with God as we recognize anew that God is always present and available for us, but not always on our minds or on our hearts. He is present to us but we are absent from him.
There are many references to fire in the Scriptures and some have to do with punishment. The more consistent theme, however, is one of purification. Recall, “As gold is tested in fire …” Gold is not destroyed in fire but rather purified. Loss is painful, fire is painful and yet what remains after a fire, especially the love, support, solidarity, charity, family, community, parish, sacraments, and maybe a few possessions, are much more highly and properly valued once the smoke clears.
I pray that a graced spirit of hope and a deep sense of the presence, love and goodness of God can be more clearly seen, valued, and responded to when the present smoke clears. Persevere! +Robert F Vasa
In our humanity we recognize the charity of financial giving, however prayer remains the most effective source of consolation, healing, and solidarity.
Please sign up for an hour of Eucharistic Adoration at your home parish and dedicate your Holy Hour to the healing of the Santa Rosa diocese. Repeat your scheduled hour each week until the 1st Sunday of Advent.
Bishop Robert F. Vasa, Statement on Wednesday, October 11, 2017, Noon
We continue to hear stories of loss and destruction. I want to make a few comments.
First, to those who have lost loved ones in the fire. We pray for your consolation and for eternal rest for your lost loved ones. Our hearts go out to all of you.
At the same time, we acknowledge the sense of loss and suffering experienced by those who have lost their homes, or businesses, or places of employment. We pray that you do not lose hope, nor the sense of God’s presence and ultimate goodness. You must know that the hearts of the entire community, though it can neither feel what you feel, nor undo the loss, do go out to you.
We acknowledge the presence and work of both the fire fighters and the police. These are men and women, not only local, but from all parts of California, and perhaps elsewhere, who have come to serve temporally here. You have a difficult job and as time passes the patience of those suffering loss will be tested. This will test your patience as well and I commend you for that patience and professionalism which I have seen so often and for which I commend you. As I very often advise. Persevere!
Thousands of volunteers are spending countless hours showing their desire to share in the suffering of those displaced by the fire. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. My prayers are with all of you as well.
While Santa Rosa may be receiving a lion’s share of the attention the same pattern of loss, support, and suffering is experienced in numerous places, communities too numerous to name. The major areas however are Calistoga (where recent evacuation is being mandated) Napa, Clearlake, Sonoma, Willits, Ukiah, Windsor, Oakmont, Yountville. To all of you in these areas, I pray you maintain hope and are kept safe.
There are 17 wildfires in five counties three in the Diocese of Santa Rosa and two in the Sacramento Diocese. The fires are 3% at most contained with most at 0% containment. This will undoubtedly be an ongoing and lengthy fire fight. Gratefully your brother +Robert F. Vasa
Video Below (St. Eugene’s Cathedral is an evacuation center and is being coordinated by the Marian Sisters of Santa Rosa and other Parishioners. A homeless man named Paul, who lives near the Cathedral in a creekbed, happened by and offered some consolation through his gift of music. The poignancy of the moment is not lost.)
Bishop Robert F. Vasa, Statement on Tuesday October 10, 2017, Noon
OUR diocese has been hit hard, as you know well, and is in an ongoing state of uncertainty. The fires are zero percent contained as of Tuesday morning. Most of our parishes are fine. The one exception is cardinal Newman high school and Saint Rose elementary which share a campus. A significant portion of the High School has been destroyed. I cannot estimate how much since the Area of these schools is still in a mandatory evacuation zone not because of ongoing fire danger but rather downed power lines and other forms of danger. Saint Rose elementary suffered the loss of their preschool building and roof damage to the school and some damage to their gym. The immediate future and accessibility To these schools will need to be carefully evaluated.
The chancery was also in the heart of a severely fire damaged part of the city but fortunately was entirely spared. I am not able to go to the chancery since it remains in the mandatory evacuation zone. Also the power is out in that area so there is no possibility of working from there today and for the unforeseeable future. So I am currently working from my car and trying to visit a few of the evacuation centers. I have visited the center at Finley and the Cathedral.
In the city they estimate that 1500 homes and businesses have been lost. I have met numerous folks who are in shelters and who have no home to which to return. The sense of great helplessness is palpable. That helplessness extends to the caregivers who know that short term solutions are necessary but also severely inadequate to meet the long term needs.
Santa Rosa is extremely smoky with the sun a mere red ball.
I am not able to travel to other areas due to travel restrictions and road closures but my Vicar General, Msgr. Whelton has been in contact with all affected pastors and assures me that all are safe. One area on national news is a senior development known as Oakmont. That whole area is evacuated including the local pastor but, as I understand it, there has not been any loss of property in that development. I trust that the local parish and hall are likewise safe at least for now. I have not heard of any other parish damage but the fire is far from contained and with wind possibilities rising over Tuesday night the future is still very much an uncertainty.
I will try to send occasional updates. I appreciate the outpouring of concern and especially prayers. When people ask how they can help I answer that I really do not know. I do know that prayers are the greatest source of solace and help.
My heart and prayers go out to all this displaced by the fire, especially those who have lost their homes. I am extremely grateful to all the caregivers who have reached out so generously to your brothers and sisters in need. We all need to recognize that this is a long term recovery and we are not yet done with the active fires. There is always need for ardent, consistent and devout prayers. I know that we can all count on you for this as well. Gratefully your brother +Robert F. Vasa
Many of your brothers and sisters in Sonoma, Napa, Lake, and Mendocino Counties have been severely impacted by the devastating fires and are in immediate need of your prayers. Please do not hesitate to offer your help though ongoing prayer, donations, and emotional support. You may even be inspired to offer your home to a family who has lost everything. Simply imagine yourself and your family going through what many are experiencing now in reality, and act accordingly.
DONATE: Make checks to: the Diocese of Santa Rosa – Mail to: P. O. Box 1297 Santa Rosa, CA 95402