(OSV News) — “Recognizing the immediate and growing need for assistance” for Hawaii’s wildfires victims, Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley has called on all parishes in his archdiocese to take a special collection to support Church relief efforts in the Diocese of Honolulu in the aftermath of the devastating Aug. 8-9 wildfires.
The fires burned Lahaina on the island of Maui to the ground and affected other communities in what is the deadliest natural disaster in Hawaii’s history and the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century.
Relief efforts will “play a crucial role in helping to rebuild lives and restore hope,” said an Aug. 17 posting on the Boston archdiocesan website. Parishes are encouraged to hold the collection over any of the next three weekends Aug. 19-20, Aug. 26-27 or Sept. 2-3.
“Cardinal Seán is grateful to the parishes of the Archdiocese for their expression of solidarity with those who are suffering,” the post said. “The Archdiocese has a long track record of stepping up in times of natural disasters to help people all over the world recover and rebuild.”
Across the country, Catholic parishes in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles also have been asked to hold a special collection at weekend Masses for victims of the Maui wildfires.
“In solidarity with our suffering sisters and brothers, Archbishop (José H.) Gomez has asked all parishes to consider conducting a non-mandatory special collection during the weekends of Aug. 19-20 and Aug. 26-27, 2023,” read a memo to parishes and schools from archdiocesan chancellor Sister Anncarla Costello, a Sister of Notre Dame, and Msgr. Terrance L. Fleming, executive director of the archdiocese’s Mission Office.
“We are reaching out to our archdiocesan parishes and communities to join together to offer prayer and financial support for all whose lives are being touched by this devastation,” read the Aug. 16 message.
Among other U.S. dioceses taking special collections for the wildfire victims is the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, whose parishes planned to do so at Masses the weekend of Aug. 19-20.
In an Aug. 11 letter addressed to “our Catholic Faithful in Hawaii and Beyond,” Honolulu Bishop Larry Silva wrote, “As a community of faith, we are called to come together and provide unwavering support to those who are suffering. It is in times like these that our collective love, faith, and compassion can make a tremendous difference.” He said supporting the church’s relief efforts for Maui “is an opportunity for us to show our solidarity as a Catholic faith community and lend a helping hand to those who have lost so much.”
Catholic Charities USA also has made an appeal for donations for Hawaii relief efforts on its website here.
As of late Aug. 18, the death toll in Lahaina was at least 111, with the identity of six victims publicly released by police. An estimated 58% of the burn area has been searched. For several days there were estimates that between 1,000 to 1,300 remained unaccounted for, but ABC News reported Aug. 18 the number could be closer to 950. About 11,000 others evacuated.
U.S. census data from 2020 shows that Lahaina had a population of about 12,700 out of an overall population on Maui of about 165,000.
As many as 3,000 homes may have been destroyed. Other Maui communities affected by fires include Kihei and Kula, with more than 500 acres burned. According to research done by Moody’s Analytics, the economic cost to Maui from the wildfires could reach $7 billion.
According to the website MauiNow.com, recovery efforts continue on Maui. Multiple fires on the island were sparked Aug. 8, and were fueled by strong winds as a hurricane passed well south of the islands. As of Aug. 18, three of those fires remain active with crews monitoring for flare-ups and hotspots.
MauiNow also reported that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has set up a disaster recovery center in Kahului. The Family Assistance Center in Kaanapali is helping those looking for displaced loved ones.
The White House press secretary announced Aug. 16 that President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden will travel to Maui Aug. 21 to meet with first responders and survivors, as well as federal, state and local officials. On Aug. 10 Biden issued a federal disaster declaration for Maui and the Big Island (Hawaii island), ordering “all available federal assets on the Islands to help with response.”
Bishop Silva leads prayers
Amid the massive destruction on Lahaina, Maria Lanakila Catholic Church survived — which for many is a beacon of hope rising from the rubble.
“For us, it’s like a miracle,” Msgr. Terrence Watanabe, the Honolulu Diocese’s vicar of Maui and Lanai, said. “When we saw the news and saw the church steeple rise above the town, it was a great sight to see,” he told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser daily newspaper Aug. 10.
When the fire struck, Bishop Silva was taking a few vacation days in California on his way back from World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal. His office quickly organized a Zoom virtual Rosary to pray for the victims, and it drew about 300 people.
The bishop flew to Maui late Aug. 12, touring the Lahaina area Aug. 13 and celebrated Mass that Sunday for 200 people about nine miles away in Kapalua at Sacred Heart, the other church that belongs to Maria Lanakila Parish.
“Strong and heavy wind; earthshaking events; fire — these are all realities with which you are very familiar because of the devastating fire earlier this week,” Bishop Silva said in his homily at the Kapalua church. “The voice of God was not in any of these things, because they were so destructive, destroying lives, homes, and livelihoods for thousands of people.
“And like the prophet Elijah, we are gathered here today, after having experienced these dramatic events, to hear a tiny whispering sound, the voice of God, who assures us of his love and care for us, despite whatever horrors or tragedies may befall us.”
God “never abandons us” but “embraces us with his whispers of comfort, love and care,” he said.
Bishop Silva noted “the difficulties you have had in sending and receiving communications to others outside this devastated community,” with cell towers burned down and the internet at that point down.
“(But) know that God’s hand is moving in thousands of people throughout Hawaii, the United States, and the world in reaching out to you in this greatest hour of need,” he said. “Countless prayers have been offered for you, and donations and services for recovery and rebuilding are pouring in. We gather to give thanks that this whisper of God’s love is stronger than the noise and drama of any disaster.”
Pope prays for Maui
Later in an Aug. 14 interview with the Hawaii Catholic Herald, Honolulu’s diocesan newspaper, Bishop Silva said he had brought the congregation news of Pope Francis’ solidarity with the people of Maui suffering from this tragedy and him invoking God’s blessing of “strength and peace.”
Because of communication difficulties, the Massgoers were unaware of an Aug. 10 telegram sent by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, to convey the Holy Father’s prayers and concern. On Aug. 13, after Pope Francis led the recitation of the Angelus prayer, he again assured the people of Hawaii of his prayers.
In his homily, Bishop Silva acknowledged the community is suffering “through the terrible grief that comes with the loss of so many loved ones and neighbors,” and must look to “rebuild a ruined city” and to “restore the livelihoods that have been lost to this terrible devastation.”
But he assured the congregation they and the wider community can accomplish the seemingly impossible “if we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.”
“He can calm the storms, give us the ability to accomplish miraculous deeds, and keep us afloat when we think we are drowning in the overwhelming misery that surrounds us,” Bishop Silva said.
“This is not to say that we will not have our moments of anger, hurt and great frustration,” he said. “As Paul speaks about the people of Israel and their adoption as beloved children of God, we must remember that the word ‘Israel’ means ‘one who wrestles with God.’ We may very well have questions about how a good and loving God could allow such tragedy to affect so many lives. We may have doubts about his goodness.
“His tiny, whispering voice may very well be drowned out by grief, anxiety, and frustration,” the bishop continued. “Yet, it is important at these times to wrestle with God. We should not give God the silent treatment. When we are angry or frustrated or hurt, we should feel free to express these feelings to God. He can take it! He will still love us. And he will stretch out his hand to catch us from drowning in our sorrow.”
He concluded, “In the midst of our own grief and sorrow, we lift our voices in praise so that this whispering voice of God will be our guide and our hope.”
Julie Asher is OSV News senior editor. Contributing to this story were Patrick Downes and Jennifer Rector, editor and reporter, respectively, at the Hawaii Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Honolulu; and Angelus, the news outlet of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.