The following is a statement by Most Rev. Michael C. Barber, SJ regarding the Oakland warehouse fire. It appeared in the December 12 edition of The Catholic Voice:
Oakland knows how to rejoice. And she knows how to weep.
Last year, we were rejoicing with our Warriors victory parade through the streets. Now it is time to weep for the victims of our warehouse fire. Both experiences bring us together as a city and as a diocese. But there’s a big difference. One was only a game. The other is a matter of life and death.
I have been receiving calls from TV and radio stations requesting interviews on the fire tragedy. All ask: “What is the Church doing to help?”
1. We have had a priest present at the fire site from the first moments of the conflagration. Our Oakland diocesan priest, Father Jayson Landeza, is chaplain to the Oakland Fire and Police departments. He was called in the middle of the night and got up out of bed to rush to the scene. He has been there all day, every day, comforting victims’ families and supporting the fire crews and sheriff’s deputies who are searching the wreckage for the remains of the poor souls who perished. On behalf of the whole diocese I am grateful to Father Jayson for bringing the love and mercy of Christ to that place of grief. This is what Pope Francis means by accompanying those who suffer. This is what St. John Vianney meant when he said, “The priest is the love of the heart of Christ.”
2. The fire broke out on a Friday evening. On the Saturday morning, as the sun rose, and the building was still smoldering, our annual pilgrimage in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe was forming at St. Louis Bertrand Parish in East Oakland. I led 4,000 faithful in a procession down International Boulevard, many carrying images of Our Lady. We were singing hymns and praying the rosary as we marched. There were floats decorated with flowers, with children dressed as angels and saints. There were brightly costumed dancers representing the different regions of Mexico. The procession passed near the scene of the tragedy at 31st and International at approximately 10 a.m. Although we and the world were only slowly becoming aware of the extent of the disaster, we paused at the warehouse and offered our prayers for the victims. Before the world press arrived and the street was closed to accommodate their TV vans, 4,000 Catholics prayed at the scene. Our Lady of Guadalupe was there. Mary’s love and compassion was there.
3. By Sunday morning the news had spread, and all our parishes offered prayers and petitions for the victims and the first responders. Through our prayers, compassion and presence at Mass or a memorial service, we can assist in the healing process. “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.” (Isaiah 40:1) The death of a loved one, especially a young person — and especially in a fire — causes infinite pain. Infinite pain needs to be healed by infinite love. Jesus is that Infinite Love of the Father. “For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son.” He sent His Son to heal our pain and open to us the possibility of eternal life.
At this Christmas time of year I like to listen to the part of Handel’s Messiah where they sing: For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9: 6)
Mary knew what it was like to lose a son due to tragedy. She also knew the joy of the seeing him in the resurrection. May that deep peace of the resurrected Christ comfort all those suffering at this time. May the peace which entered the world through the birth of the Christ child permeate your homes and hearts this Christmas.
May all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of god, rest in peace. May the Good Lord and His Holy Mother comfort the grieving.
Bp. Barber, thank you for showing your pastoral love. Our Lady of Guadalupe is looking down on you and the 4000 you lead in prayer and smiling. May the souls of all the faithful departed Rest In Peace and may their loved ones be consoled.
A horrible, sad, unimaginable tragedy. Victims certainly. But martyrs – as the tone here and the Bay Area news outlets implies? Martyrs to what?
Steve G., none of us know the state of the souls of those lost in the fire, so it is best to pray for them. I do not think the article said they were martyrs, unless someone deliberately set the fire because of their religious virtue, and that does not seem to be the case. The hope is that they made their peace with God before they died, and that they are in heaven, or at least purgatory.