10 August 2021, The Tablet

Greek churches pray for fire victims

by Jonathan Luxmoore , in Warsaw/Oxford and CNS

Greek churches pray for fire victims

A tree burns near a house in a forest fire north of Athens.
Angelos Tzortzinis/dpa/Alamy

Greek church leaders have urged better ecological awareness in the wake of devastating forest fires across their country, while instructing local parish communities to offer help and shelter to victims. 
“The fires and heavy floods now spreading across the world are a reminder of how important is care for ecology,” said the head of the Orthodox church, Archbishop Ieronymos II of Athens.
“Humanity forgets that God has entrusted us with a duty of care for the environment and natural world. An effective response to climate change is one of humanity's greatest challenges for the Twenty-First Century.”
The 83-year-old primate was reacting to a week-long wave of devastating blazes across the country, fanned by 40-degree heatwaves, which culminated on Monday with a mass evacuation from Evia, Greece's second largest island, and pledges of financial help for homeless families from the centre-right government of premier Kyriakos Mitsotakis.   
He said he was “deeply shocked, like every Greek” by media images of the forest fires, which had spread close to the capital in the southern Attica region, and had asked Orthodox schools, monasteries and parishes to offer accommodation and support to those affected. 
Pledges of solidarity and financial aid also came from Orthodox churches in Serbia, Ukraine and Romania, where a priest was shown on national TV blessing firefighters en route to Greece. The Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I, sent a message of sympathy to Mitsotakis, and said he also been in touch with bishops in affected areas.  
Meanwhile in the US, the Diocese of Baker in eastern Oregon, east of the Cascades, has borne the brunt of an early start to the fire season.

The Bootleg Fire, northeast of Klamath Falls and close to the towns of Beatty and Bly, began on July 6 and soon exploded into the largest fire in the country.

The little mission church of St James in Bly stands about six miles from the fire's southern perimeter. The blaze, which had destroyed 161 residences as of July 27, also forced the evacuation of at least 2,000 homes and threatened 5,000 more. 

Smoke from the Bootleg Fire and other western conflagrations has mostly drifted east, creating a haze in the Midwest and even the eastern seaboard. But some smoke has worked its way west into the Archdiocese of Portland.

Jesús Sevilla, a Knight of Columbus from Shepherd of the Valley Parish in Central Point, said residents of the Rogue River Valley could see and smell smoke. After last year's devastating fires between Ashland and Medford, the smoke is causing high anxiety.

“It's terrifying,” said Lupita Suarez, a member of Our Lady of the Mountain Parish in Ashland. Suarez lived in the devastated town of Talent and lost all of her belongings in the Almeda fire in September last year.

Sacred Heart Parish in Medford, Shepherd of the Valley in Central Point and St Anne Grants Pass reported that no church properties have been affected or are under threat. In northeast Oregon, the Elbow Creek Fire, which started July 15, had grown to 23,000 acres by the last days of July.

The Elbow Creek Fire is about 15 miles north of the towns of Elgin and Wallowa, both of which have Catholic mission churches.


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