With more than 30 deaths caused by the various wildfires devouring swaths of California, Pope Francis on Friday sent a message voicing his solidarity with victims, and ensuring his prayer for all those affected by the blazes.
“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,” read an Oct. 13 letter signed by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
Addressed to Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco and Archbishop José Gómez of Los Angeles, the letter assured of the Pope's closeness to “those who mourn the loss of their loved ones and who fear for the lives of those still missing.” The letter also offered encouragement to civil authorities and emergency personnel working to put out the fires and help victims of the “tragedy,” and extended his blessing.
The 17 different wildfires raging in northern California, made worse by dry conditions and unrelenting winds, have so far scorched at least 100,000 acres and have killed at least 31 people since the beginning of the week. Thousands more have been displaced, their homes and businesses destroyed.
According to the Los Angeles Times, an estimated 2,834 homes were destroyed in the city of Santa Rosa alone, one of the hardest hit by the fires, while roughly 400,000 square feet of commercial spaces have also been reduced to ash. Much of the area of the Diocese of Santa Rosa has been under mandatory evacuation, including the chancery and the local Catholic Charities office.
In an Oct. 10 message, Bishop Robert Vasa of the Diocese of Santa Rosa said “the sense of great helplessness is palpable” among residents. “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.”
The bishop offered his own prayers for those who had lost loves ones in the fires, praying “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,” he said. “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.”
Vasa also thanked the firefighters and police, both those from California and throughout the country who have offered their help.