HONOLULU (OSV News) – “For us, it’s like a miracle,” Msgr Terrence Watanabe, the Honolulu Diocese’s vicar of Maui and Lanai, said about Maria Lanakila Catholic Church in the town of Lahaina being seemingly untouched by the fierce Maui wildfires which burned from August 8-9.
The blaze burned Lahaina to the ground in the deadliest natural disaster in Hawaii’s history and the deadliest US wildfire in more than a century.
“When we saw the news and saw the church steeple rise above the town, it was a great sight to see,” the priest said in an interview with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser daily newspaper on August 10.
Honolulu Bishop Larry Silva echoed the vicar in saying Maria Lanakila Church “was miraculously spared, as was the rectory”. He said the adjacent convent, school and hall were “burned, along with neighbouring homes.”
In comments Aug. 14 to the Hawaii Catholic Herald, the diocesan newspaper, he also reported that the pastor, Father Kuriakose Nadooparambil, a priest of the Missionaries of Faith congregation, “was allowed to go in (to the church) with a police escort, and he reported that not even the flowers in the church were wilted or singed. There was only a covering of ash on the pews”.
“We thank God for this blessing! Of course the church cannot be used until the area around it is cleared and deemed suitable for passage,” Bishop Silva added.
Early on August, 16 Maui County officials confirmed that they have recovered the bodies of 106 people, but the death toll was expected to keep rising “as crews scour the ruins” About 1,300 people remained missing. About 11,000 others had been nevacuated.
As many as 3000 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.
In the days since the fires, Msgr Watanabe has been fielding hundreds of calls and emails “from all over the world.” The outpouring of concern is “overwhelming”, he told the Hawaii Catholic Herald. “It’s unbelievable.”
The church where Msgr. Watanabe is pastor, St. Anthony in Wailuku, held an ecumenical prayer service for victims the evening of August 15, hosted by Bishop Silva.
“We should do what we do best – pray,” the monsignor said.
Prayer has been a watchword for Bishop Silva, too, as well as calling for the faithful to give “unwavering support” to the fire victims.
Lahaina holds deep cultural significance for Hawaiians as the district “was once the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom.” The Lahaina Historic District, which encompassed downtown Lahaina, Front Street and its vicinity, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962.
Bishop Silva also noted that because cell towers had burned down and the internet was down, most people “were not aware that Pope Francis had sent a letter expressing his concern, prayers, and support – even though I had published the letter on our diocesan media platforms. I read the letter to [the people], and they were very grateful.”
The Pope’s prayers and support for the people of Maui were in an August 10 telegram sent by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state. On August 13, after he led the recitation of the Angelus prayer, the Pope again assured the people of Hawaii of his prayers.
Photo: An aerial view shows the community of Lahaina after wildfires driven by high winds burned across most of the town in Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii, USA (OSV News photo/Marco Garcia, Reuters)