Oregon church activities curtailed by smoke from wildfires

IMAGE: CNS photo/DigitalGlobe, a Maxar company, handout via Reuters

By Ed Langlois

PORTLAND, Ore. (CNS) — Catholic
churches and homes in southern Oregon are safe so far amid wildfires, but
persistent smoke has suppressed activities — and spirits.

“It is horrible. It is
absolutely grim,” said Ann Brophy, pastoral associate at Sacred Heart
Church in Medford.

This is the fourth consecutive
season of heavy smoke in the region. Brophy said this summer’s dose is the
worst she has seen in her 30 years in Medford. “Children can’t go out and
play,” she said.

Seniors have been intrepid about
attending Mass at Sacred Heart, despite a dangerous and gloomy atmosphere for
two months.

“They are trying to continue on
with life,” Brophy said.

Like many in the region, Brophy has
curtailed her daily walks and has a nagging cough. She notices few pedestrians,
cyclists or dog walkers.

“It’s like a ghost town around
here,” she said.

Blue skies emerge now and then. But
since July, air flow has mostly covered the region with smoke from fires as
close as Gold Hill and as far as British Columbia. Northern California blazes
are contributing. Visibility often drops below a mile and on certain days, the
region has some of the world’s worst air quality.

“It just keeps hanging in
there,” said Debbie Todor, administrative assistant at St. Anne Parish in
Grants Pass. “I have heard some people say they can’t get out because of
smoke.” Plans for the Sept. 1 dedication of the new church in Grants Pass
went ahead.

A fire in Gold Hill was miles away
from St. Rita Retreat Center, but smoke has been “terrible,” said
Father Stephen Fister, executive director of the retreat site. One group
canceled a planned meditation retreat that would have brought people from all
over the country.

Scratchy throats are common and some
residents have discomfort in their chests as smoke particles cause inflammation
in airways. Older people and children have been especially vulnerable.

Our Lady of the Mountain Parish in
Ashland moved its summer picnic inside. Many outdoor performances of the town’s
Oregon Shakespeare Festival have been relocated to a high school auditorium.

Mass attendance at Our Lady of the
Mountain seems low, said Stephanie Hoffman, the business manager. “The
smoke does get very tiresome,” Hoffman said.

Summer haze is starting to feel
normal, said Joyce Marks, pastoral associate at Shepherd of the Valley Parish
in Central Point.

“You go out to your car and
there are ashes on the windshield,” she said. “People are just tired
of it.”

Vacation Bible School at the parish
drew 100 children, but they had to stay inside all week. “We had to be
creative,” said Marks, who plans to hold the event before fire season next

Marks has noticed that elders are
staying home more. Parish picnic attendance was down by half, and the fall
festival may need to be postponed, depending on winds and air quality.

Throughout the region, prayers of
the faithful often mention firefighters and those who have lost homes in
northern California.

– –

Langlois is managing editor of the Catholic
Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland.

– – –

Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Original Article