“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are mine. When you pass through waters, I will be with you; through rivers, you shall not be swept away. When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned, nor will flames consume you. For I, the LORD, am your God, the Holy One of Israel, your savior” – Isaiah 43:1-3
For the second year in a row, our community finds itself picking up the pieces from a tragic and damaging fire. Last June’s Waldo Canyon fire was the most destructive to date in Colorado history. No person was anxious to see that dubious distinction topped, but the Black Forest fire burned nearly 500 homes completely, killed two people, and became the worst fire our state had seen.
As a community, we have begun the long recovery process in preliminary ways. As with last year, people and organizations from all over the country have come together to aid those affected by the fire, both materially and emotionally. I find myself praying often to God in these days, acknowledging that his ways are not our ways; so many seek understanding and comfort now, as they face such immense loss. Those who seek to help ask God for wisdom for how to be of some small assistance to our neighbors in need.
Catholic Charities is again assisting those affected by the fires. We are given a great privilege to be present to people in such an intensely difficult time. It is hard to know what to say at times; we cannot meet every need that arises, and that is not an easy reality to face. In many ways, we must turn to God for answers in how to serve in the midst of personal tragedy, to do what we can as we listen intently for his will.
Last year, a number of Catholic Charities staff were evacuated during the Waldo Canyon fire, having lived in close proximity to the Mountain Shadows area. This gave a different perspective to their service to residents facing loss. As a resident of Black Forest, this year I experienced the fear and helplessness that comes with leaving my home, not knowing if it would be there when I returned. I stared at all of the things in my home, trying to decide what to take and what to leave, and then explained to my children why some stuffed animals didn’t make the initial cut. Though we did not lose our home, that experience and being part of an outreach to my own geographic neighbors gives me new insight this year.
As a faith community, it is important that we not lose sight of those who have suffered such great loss in these fires. We are called to be with them for the duration, to let them know that we are Church for the long haul. Any expert will tell you that the path in front of so many is a long one, and for us to be what God calls us to be, we must be intentional about walking this journey with them for as long as it takes. For those facing great challenges, like the elderly and the uninsured, do we have what it takes to dig in deep to create solutions where none are obvious?
We do not need expert training to listen to our brothers and sisters in need. We need not have great sums of money to drop in and ask if we can help make phone calls, shop or prepare a meal or two for the rough days in these intense times of rebuilding.
It is not practical to live our lives holding all things in common as the early Church did, but we can reignite some of the spirit that animated our still-living ancestors in the faith. Like them, we should make the gaps experienced by others a priority in our own lives. While some aspects of the organization of the Church have changed over time, her mission and our corresponding duties have not. Many people have reached out to others affected by these wildfires. Let us be mindful that this outreach will be necessary for a long time to come, and be fully present to our neighbors when the news media stops mentioning their needs during the evening broadcasts.
While charity – love of God that leads us to love of neighbor – is always most powerful in its non-professional, heart-to-heart manifestations, if you know of any person who can use material or emotional assistance, Catholic Charities of Central Colorado has resources to help. Please have them contact us at 719-866-6441.
May God use each of us to lift up our neighbors in need at this time!
*This article by Mark Rohlena, Esq., first appeared in The Colorado Catholic Herald in July 18, 2013.