The massive wildfires of California have drawn calls for prayer and assistance from the U.S. bishops, as Catholic Charities affiliates in the state work to aid victims.
“I am sure all the faithful join me in saying: we stand ready to help in the recovery,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, said Dec. 8.
Dan Grimm, Santa Barbara/Ventura regional director for Catholic Charities of Los Angeles, also called for prayers.
“We are praying for a quick end to this 'trial by fire' but so grateful for the generosity of so many coming to the aid of their brothers and sisters in Christ,” he told CNA.
Six fires currently affect the state, having burned nearly 160,000 acres. About 190,000 people have been forced from their homes as over 5,700 firefighters combat the flames.
The worst blaze, the Thomas Fire, started late Monday near Santa Paula, Calif. It has burned 132,000 acres, about 206 square miles. In its first day, it spread at a rate of one acre per second.
Wind gusts are expected to continue to fan the flames through Sunday, CNN reports.
Calling for prayer, Cardinal DiNardo noted that on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Catholics “commit ourselves to the loving protection of Mary the Mother of God and patroness of America.”
“Let us remember, especially, her sons and daughters in danger from the terrible wildfires in California, both those whose homes are in the fire’s path and those courageous first responders and firefighters who are putting their lives at risk,” he said.
Grimm reflected on the response to the wildfires.
“The effect of the wildfires has been devastating, but people are responding with faith and generosity even before the flames have stopped, helping those displaced temporarily or permanently with food, water, clothing, bedding and other personal necessities,” he said.
“Catholic Charities has been one of the collection points for this great outpouring of generosity and we’re working extra to receive, store and distribute while taking care of our regular clients, both working low-income and homeless people,” he continued.
Grimm said the Red Cross and local cities have been “great” at running evacuation centers and first response operations.
“Now we are helping people as they regroup, return to clean up and protect their homes, and deal with lack of power, heat, safe water and adequate food,” the Catholic Charities official said.
The Catholic Charities of Los Angeles website, at catholiccharitiesla.org, is collecting funds to aid relief.
Catholic Charities’ Ventura Community Services Center is accepting in-kind donations for the victims of the Ventura County fire, while Catholic Charities’ Guadalupe Community Center is taking in-kind donations for victims of the Sylmar/Santa Clarita fire.
Grimm said the Ventura center in the course of one day received food, clothing and personal items that filled the client reception room. These donated goods are planned to be moved to a temporary distribution center in Casita Springs, staffed by Boy Scouts, so that residents in need may have easier access to them.
“As those whose homes were partially or completely destroyed seek to restart their lives, Catholic Charities is helping to find short-term housing,” he said.
The charities’ Santa Barbara thrift store will provide low- or no-cost furniture, clothing and household goods. The archdiocese’s Cardinal McIntyre Fund and a special fund for victims will help address uninsured housing repair and replacement costs.
Cardinal DiNardo made specific prayer recommendations, saying: “Please find a moment today, whether after Mass or while gathered as a family around the Advent wreath, to pray a Rosary in gratitude for Mary’s gifts to humanity and entrusting to her protection our sisters and brothers in the fire’s path.”