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placeholder Parish youth minister helps fire victims escape ‘huge flame in sky’

Oakland native ‘pays it forward’ as Maryknoll volunteer in Bolivia

Former campus minister at Seattle University helps Maryknoll volunteers succeed in Bolivia

•  A mission of empowerment and care for Oakland’s poor
•  A philanthropist and a Presentation Sister to be honored for service to St. Mary’s Center

Parishes in Berkeley, Pittsburg welcome new pastors

Relics of St. John Bosco visit Salesian High

Secular Carmelites host open house to acquaint laity with community

How to study theology and keep your day job

St. Mary’s College hosts lecture on ‘interfaith engagement’

Cardinal Newman’s beatification a teaching moment for colleges

Interfaith leaders denounce anti-Islamic actions, rhetoric

Pastor, border-town mayor address conflicting interests

Widow of slain rancher wrestles with immigration issues

Jesuit rebuts reasoning in new book by Stephen Hawking that God didn’t create universe

Bill would end shackling of pregnant prisoners

Catholic University grad to play Lincoln

Manhattan Declaration supporters call for 40-day prayer, fast

Sister Mary John Minetta, SHF

placeholder September 20, 2010   •   VOL. 48, NO. 16   •   Oakland, CA
Parish youth minister helps fire
victims escape ‘huge flame in sky’

St. Bruno Parish youth minister Paini Lautaimi was lost in thought, driving south on Skyline Boulevard in San Bruno with his mother when he felt an intense heat on his face. He turned and saw “this huge, huge flame in the sky.”

Worshippers grieve during Mass at St. Robert Church the day after the disaster.

Lautaimi pulled off the road at a gas station and ran toward a field where people were trying to scale a six-foot fence as flames soared behind them. He helped an elderly woman and several others to safety, and then turned toward a man who was screaming. “My house, my house,” the man said as he sat along the side of the road on Glenview Drive, near the heart of the devastating pipeline explosion and fire on Sept. 9.

Apparently in shock, the man did not appear to realize he “was severely burned and his skin was falling off,” Lautaimi said. Lautaimi, despite feeling overwhelmed, stayed with the injured man, assuring him help was coming until paramedics arrived 10 minutes later.

The next day Lautaimi was at St. Bruno Church, tracking down parishioners who lived in the affected area from a map he had drawn of the Crestmoor neighborhood on a white board. The disaster hit close to home at the two nearest Catholic parishes, St. Bruno and St. Robert.

The grandmother of St. Bruno parishioner Roger Ugaitafa was severely injured, and his mother, Gayle Masunu, was treated and released. Loretta Groulx underwent surgery and was being treated at San Francisco General Hospital, said pastor Father Michael Brillantes, who in the hours after the fire went to evacuation sites and to hospitals in his clericals and “made myself visible” in case someone needed a priest.

One of the four identified fatalities from the disaster was Elizabeth Torres, an 81-year-old mother of nine children who was registered at St. Robert Parish. Three of her family members who were severely injured were in St. Francis Memorial Hospital’s burn unit, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

Jessica Morales, 20, also died in the flames and her boyfriend was at St. Francis Hospital. Scores were injured, and four others were missing, according to San Bruno City officials at press time.

Although the entire area of the San Bruno gas explosion is within the St. Robert Parish boundaries, it appears no one from any of the school’s families was injured or killed, said Yvonne Olcomendy, St. Robert principal.

Nine parish families lost their homes and other school family homes were damaged, Sister Sheral Marshall said. Father Roberto Andrey, pastor, said the parishioners immediately made a list of families living in neighborhood of the blast— 90 parish families had homes in the affected area—and began calling. With land lines down or burned, they relied more on word of mouth to relay the news.

The parish offered its 12-room convent for shelter and two families stayed there for several days, Sister Sheral said.

At the time of the disaster many families were at the church helping organize next week’s parish festival, and others were picking up uniforms for sports teams.

“They were down here so they weren’t home when it happened,” Olcomendy said.

St. Robert parishioner and school parent Tim Reid, a lieutenant in the San Mateo Sheriff’s Department, heard the explosion as his family was sitting down to dinner. “We ran like hell,” he said.

Once his wife and two daughters were safe, Lt. Reid returned to help with the evacuation. A shift in the wind diverted the fire, leaving their home unscathed. “It was good for me,” Lt. Reid said, “but bad for a lot of other people.”

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