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Canada Jul 19, 2017

Kamloops bishop urges Catholics to help those fleeing wildfires

By Agnieszka Krawczynski

Smoke is seen near Okanagan Lake July 15. Eight homes were destroyed in the area. (Tim Bonner / Special to The B.C. Catholic)

VANCOUVER—Thousands of hectares of wildfires, smoke, and ashes have caused an estimated 40,000 British Columbians to leave their homes during what many are calling one of the worst wildfire seasons in the province's history.

In the midst of firefighting efforts and evacuation orders, a local bishop has offered his prayers and urged area Catholics to help their less fortunate neighbours.

“We ask our entire diocese, the local Church, to pray for the safety of our firefighters as well as the evacuation and relief teams,” he wrote in a letter to all the faithful July 14.

“We also encourage your support in providing relief to evacuees. Please check with your local charities and regional district office regarding volunteering, providing food, shelter, or donations.”

At the time of writing, more than 160 wildfires were tearing apart thousands of hectares of forest in the Diocese of Kamloops, including 100 Mile House, Ashcroft, Quesnel, and Williams Lake.

Bishop Nguyen told The B.C. Catholic he's worried about the safety of the people and of area churches. “The whole sky over the city is covered in smoke and ashes” at his office in Kamloops.

On July 18, he was not aware of any churches belonging to the diocese having burned down and said he “hopes and prays” they stay that way. He has instructed priests under evacuation alerts to secure church files before they are evacuated, to preserve valuable and historic documents.

Bishop Nguyen expressed concern about the spiritual lives of evacuees: “The people are away, and they have have no sacraments or support,” during this stressful time, he said.

In his letter, Bishop Nguyen wrote he is praying for “safety and peace” during the wildfire emergency. “For all of those who are affected, particularly the evacuees, we pray that you will find God’s comfort and peace at this time.”

A few fires are also in sight of the neighbouring Diocese of Prince George. The home page for that diocese’s website provides a list of ways for local Catholics to get involved, including donating to the Red Cross and volunteering.