‘Our diocese has been hit hard’

As fires devastate Northern California, Santa Rosa Bishop Robert Vasa sends updates and messages of support from his car in between visits to evacuation centers

Fire consumes a barn as an out of control wildfire moves through the area in Glen Ellen, Calif., Oct 9, 2017. (Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.)

While firefighters in northern California are currently battling 17 wildfires in five counties, Bishop Robert Vasa of the Diocese of Santa Rosa, one of the hardest hit areas, is typing updates and messages of support from his car, in between visits to evacuation centers.

“Our diocese has been hit hard, as you know well, and is in an ongoing state of uncertainty,” he said in his Tuesday message.

The fires, made worse by dry conditions and unrelenting winds, have already scorched at least 100,000 acres and have killed at least 21 people since the beginning of the week. Thousands more have been displaced, their homes and businesses destroyed.

Much of the area of the Diocese of Santa Rosa has been under mandatory evacuation, including the chancery and the local Catholic Charities office. One of the diocese’s Catholic high schools has been almost completely destroyed by a fire, and an elementary school has sustained significant damage.

“Most of our parishes are fine,” Bishop Vasa wrote. “The one exception is Cardinal Newman High School and Saint Rose elementary which share a campus.”

A “significant portion” of the high school was destroyed, he noted, along with the preschool building and the roof of the elementary school.

Graham Rutherford, principal of Cardinal Newman High School, sent a letter to parents and students, assuring them that all students and staff had been accounted for and were safe, and asked them to respect the evacuations and not go near the campus until officials have given the all-clear.

“Thank you for the many kind and generous efforts made by countless members of our community to help each other and to help others in this hour of need,” he added. “We are proud to see our school year motto, ‘One School: Undivided’ lived out with such compassion.”

Bishop Vasa also noted that he has visited several evacuation centers and spoken with many people whose homes and businesses have been destroyed.

“The sense of great helplessness is palpable,” he wrote. “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.”

Father David Jenuwine, Parochial Vicar of St. Apollinaris Catholic Church in Napa, California recounted some of his own experiences with the fires in e-mail comments to CNA in between helping out at evacuation centers.

On Monday, the first day of the fires, Jenuwine said he started smelling smoke around 4 a.m. and realized the area had lost power.

“When I figured out what was going on, I exposed the Blessed Sacrament around 5:00 am and started praying. People started showing up for morning Mass at 6:15 am. I went inside (again still dark – no power), and got ready for Mass” he said.

“Mass in complete darkness, knowing your friends and parishioners are in jeopardy, is an awe inspiring experience. The prayers took on an eminence and an importance,” he said.

The verse that “jumped from the page” of the day’s readings was: “Who is my neighbor?”

“I spoke briefly about that verse, and how that would be our clarion call for the next several days,” Jenuwine said. “Because without limit, right now, EVERYONE is our neighbor.”

Full story at Catholic News Agency.


  1. Michael McDermott says

    California has long known the Basics of Preventing Mass Casualty Fires, but it not only costs money (a small amount compared to the Loss), but requires Attention to the Basics (Safe Distance Spaces, Non Flammable Roofs etc., Prevention Training & Brush Clearance…) But the people always seem to have higher priorities – Until the Flame Front Approaches, and by then it is too late

    Prevention & Preparedness Work – but Not Retroactively

    • Linda Maria says

      Sounds like PG&E especially goofed-up, in this horrific case!! Makes you CRY!! I am sure that our Church can be of help, in this horrific crisis!!

    • Michael McDermott says

      Consider the lack of Preparedness & Training specifically identifying Parishes and Schools, where they have been given a back burner to more ‘happy’ focuses, despite the potential Grave Harm to the Innocents

      Beyond basics like comprehensive First Aid Training and Fire Prevention for the Staff & Students – I have read many ‘safety manuals’ (while a Substitute Teacher) and found them beyond wanting & failures in time of crisis. If you have to look at an outdated manual while the building is coming down around your ears, then it is too little tool late.
      I have long recommended that Substitute Teachers be used to run Exclusive Safety Programs in our Schools – but Deaf Ears is the biggest response so far.
      We Live in wildfire /…

      • Michael McDermott says

        WE live in an Active Wildfire / Earthquake / Tsunami /Pandemic world, and failure to Prepare and Train for such Eventualities is only the precursor of News Headlines detailing the death / injury & Destruction toll.
        Our Churches and Schools should be Safe Havens – Not traps for the unknowing to suffer from the inattention of the otherwise occupied Political /
        ‘Professional Catholic” Partisan Activists
        Less politically partisan ‘social justice’ and More Caring About the Welfare of All – takes away the subsidy of the leftist / gender feminist / homosex Mau-Mau Machine – but Actually Helps Catholics & their neighbors

  2. There are intercessory prayers on the Diocese of Sacramento’s website.

  3. Your Fellow Catholic says

    No need to go to any website. Just pray. And give. And support.

  4. The Watchman says

    America especially the State of California turn to a loving and merciful God before it is too late. The warnings of God’s final judgment are getting stronger and stronger each day. Pray the daily Rosary. Turn away from the culture of death that your governments are promoting and start promoting the culture of life. God gave us his only begotten Son to die on the cross for the repentance of our sins and our eternal salvation. Repent and Convert! Pray Pray Pray!

  5. Linda Maria says

    I looked for these intercessory prayers, on the website of the Diocese of Sacramento— but could not find them! I would like some further information, to find and to say these prayers, to help poor, suffering victims! Thanks!

    • I could not find them either, so I just used my prayer book that has a prayer for protection against fires and for rain. I am sure you can find such prayers on line. One such prayer book if you want it for later is “The Rural Life Prayer Book” by Alban J. Dachauer, S. J. It is an older one that was updated by Tan and is still on line.

      • Linda Maria says

        Thank you, Anne T.! I will look for this good prayer book! I also have many good older prayer books of my own, which I should get out, and make a note of, for particular good prayers, for people in extreme crisis and suffering situations — when I am so upset, overwhelmed, shocked and crying– and cannot focus well, trying to form words for prayers, on my own!!

        • Linda Maria says

          Best thing to do, of course, in crisis situations like this– pick up your Rosary and begin saying it, or say the Chaplet of Divine Mercy! Hope the Church will have many religious devotions, especially for victims of the terrible Northern CA fires– and prayers to request God’s help, for future fire prevention!!

      • The book is on line for sale that is.

    • Click on ‘Auxiliary Bishop Cotta’s Statement on Northern California Wildfires” . Scroll down to find the intercessions. Peace to you.

      • Linda Maria says

        I went again to the Diocese of Sacramento’s website, clicked on the title of “Auxiliary Bishop Cotta’s Statement…” and there it was— the intercesory prayers! Very complete, mentioning all needs to be prayed for! I so appreciate this! It helps me so much, in times of extreme crisis– to have good intercessory prayers like this, not too hard to say, nor too long, and very complete, mentioning everything needed, to be prayed for — this provides a good way for me to focus towards saying prayers for people in extreme crisis, suffering horribly– when I am too upset to form any words in prayers of my own, and am in deep shock— and just want to cry, cry, cry!!

      • Thank you, Anonymous. I just put “Bishop Cotta’s statements on Northern California fires” in my search bar, clicked on the website, and the prayers were at the bottom. One does not even have to go to the diocesan site. There are some really good prayers there for the injured, the dead, firefighters and so forth. I will add these to my prayers for protection against fires and for rain.

  6. Faithful and True says

    Hope Bishop Vasa will soon hold a Mass at Cathedral for all who are suffering this disaster. Suggestion: perhaps Cathedral Office could be temporary point of contact-Offices for Diocesen staff and bishop since Chancery is closed?

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