Santa Rosa Bishop: ‘Our Diocese Has Been Hit Hard’ by Wildfires
The people affected most by these fires need your ardent, consistent and devout prayers.
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.
Most Rev. Robert F. Vasa is the sixth Bishop of Santa Rosa, California