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Catholic Voice
December 12, 2016   •   VOL. 54, NO. 21   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
In Oakland, a time to mourn
and heal

Jubilee of Mercy ends,
but acts of mercy continue

People came alone and in small groups to pray in the Cathedral of Christ the Light Dec. 5 before joining in candle-light vigil at Lake Merritt.

Agencies, individuals offer aid in wake of fire

Father Jayson Landeza, chaplain to the Oakland Fire and Police departments, was on the scene of the fire every day, comforting victims' families and supporting those searching the wreckage for the remains of the poor souls who perished.

Pupils aid fire victims
The Student Council at St. Joseph Elementary School, Alameda, held a hot chocolate sale the morning of Dec. 6 to benefit the families of the victims of the Oakland warehouse fire.
Andrea Medulan/courtesy photo

The Catholic community of the East Bay joined the city of Oakland in mourning the lives lost in a warehouse fire in the Fruitvale neighborhood on Dec. 2.

As of Dec. 6, 36 bodies had been recovered from the warehouse, which had been used as a residence for artists as well as a performance space. Many of the victims, authorities said, had been attending a dance party that night.

Among the Catholic groups to offer prayer were participants in the annual pilgrimage honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe along International Boulevard, from St. Louis Bertrand Parish to the Cathedral of Christ the Light.

Early in the morning of Dec. 3, Hector Medina, coordinator for Latino ministries, learned that the planned route would have to be modified in the aftermath of the fire.

The pilgrimage, with the good weather, was larger than expected, with more dance groups and floats than usual.

Along the route, there was music and prayer.

As the pilgrims passed near 31st Avenue and International Boulevard, the music was silenced out of respect, Medina said, and the only sounds were those of prayer.

Once the pilgrimage reached the Cathedral of Christ the Light, prayers for those lost in the fire — at that time, the number was unknown — were offered during Mass.

Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, issued a statement that afternoon.

"Our prayers and thoughts are with all those who have died or are suffering from the tragic fire of last evening in the Fruitvale neighborhood. We also pray for the first responders, medical personnel and others who are aiding the victims and their loved ones. We will be remembering the deceased in our Masses this weekend throughout the Diocese of Oakland. May their souls rest in peace," the bishop said.

Among those aiding the victims was Rev. Jayson Landeza, who in addition to serving as pastor of St. Benedict Parish in Oakland, is chaplain to the Oakland Police and Fire departments.

He was called to the scene in its first hours. He spent the following days in the family assistance center the city had set up for those awaiting word on their loved ones, as well as at the scene with those working in the grim aftermath of the fire.

In a Facebook post Dec. 6, Father Landeza acknowledged the work of his fellow chaplains "whose ministry it has been to walk closely with the families and friends of the fire victims here in Oakland."

Each weekend Mass at the Cathedral of Christ the Light began with a moment of silence for the victims of the fire, said Very Rev. James Matthews, rector of the cathedral.

Over the weekend, administrators at St. Elizabeth High School, located just a few blocks from the site of the fire, checked in with their students; all were well.

As school began Monday, a loudspeaker announcement let students know counseling was available to them. Students the staff deemed might be affected by the fire were checked with individually. No one knew any of the victims.

But the school leadership found something more.

"Most of our students wanted to do something to help," said counselor Betty Uribe. They were particularly concerned about the people waiting at the family assistance center in their neighborhood.

"This shows how resilient and relentless they are in wanting to serve others," Uribe said.

The first calls for Catholic Charities of the East Bay's crisis response services came from the Oakland Unified School District, for assistance at a school that had lost a teacher in the fire, and from people who had been helped in the past and wanted to refer friends, said Mary Kuhn, communications director.

The social services arm of the Catholic community of the East Bay was assessing its resources and looking for the best ways to offer assistance, Kuhn said. Parishes near the fire were being asked what help they needed to meet the needs of people who might be coming to their doors.

Before the nighttime vigil at Lake Merritt Dec. 5, 18 people, alone or in small groups, came to the Cathedral of Christ the Light for moments of silent prayer and reflection.

Once the recovery efforts at the fire site have been completed, the Cathedral of Christ the Light will host an interfaith prayer service for the victims, and for the first-responders, Father Matthews said. Check the Catholic Voice webpage, www.catholicvoiceoakland.org, and Facebook/TheCatholicVoice for information.

Father Landeza, after his days at the scene and with families, was asked about the experience. He expressed "a familiar refrain at times like this."

"Always let someone you love and care for know that you love and care for them."

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