Some of the few Masses available for Catholics in California’s Bay Area came to a halt last weekend as bishops urged parishioners to pray for one another, for firefighters, and to stay home as air quality diminished in some parts of the state because of some of the largest wildfires in California history.
“People are just stunned, with the pandemic and the downturn in the economy and the racial issues and then on top of that, the wildfires,” Bishop Oscar Cantú, head of the Diocese of San Jose, told Catholic News Service. “It makes you wonder, what else? All we need is an earthquake.”
Evacuation orders have affected more than 250,000 Californians, including many Catholics in the Archdiocese of San Francisco and the dioceses of San Jose, Sacramento and Monterey. All except Monterey are on a list of cities trending at the national level for fast-rising Covid-19 rates.
More than a million acres in the area burned in the span of a week, the Associated Press reported, causing seven deaths as of 24th August. The blazes, which began on 14th August, are believed to have been caused by lightning strikes and made worse by drought conditions.
Because of the rising rate of contagion, some dioceses in California have only had the option of holding Mass outdoors and like fellow prelates from nearby dioceses, Bishop Cantú said he gave priests the option of cancelling them since being outdoors could be harmful to the health of those attending.
The fires have affected parishioners at more than half a dozen of the diocese’s 52 parishes, he said. Many others are under threat.
“One of the largest (fires), in East San Jose, is right next to us…then there’s another large fire to the west of us in Santa Cruz,” he said. “So, we feel sort of boxed in and so that really has put people on edge.”
Even with all the chaos, people have stepped up to help others, he said. The diocese has given priests information to share with their parishioners, connecting those who have lost their homes to resources available in the area and also issuing information about what to prepare ahead of time should they be evacuated “and to be ready to go at a moment’s notice”, Bishop Cantú said.
“We’re sharing that information, as well, and our Catholic Charities continues to distribute food, which they’ve been doing (because) of the pandemic,” he said. “And so, especially now, they’re collecting funds to support those families who have lost their homes during the fires.”
Picture: A firefighter from Chula Vista, Calif., monitors the LNU Lightning Complex Fire in Lake County on 23rdAugust 2020. (CNS photo/Adrees Latif, Reuters).