National News

In Wildfires Aftermath, Bishop of Honolulu Works to Return Displaced Children to School

The shells of burned cars are pictured amid the ruins of homes in the ravaged town of Lahaina, Hawaii, on the island of Maui Aug.15, 2023. Honolulu Bishop Larry Silva is urging the faithful of the diocese to “come together and provide unwavering support” to those who have lost everything in the Maui wildfires that destroyed Lahaina and damaged other communities Aug. 8 and 9. (Photo: OSV News/Mike Blake, Reuters)

by The Tablet Staff

PROSPECT HEIGHTS — As Hawaii continues to grapple with the devastating aftermath of the wildfires on the island of Maui, the Diocese of Honolulu is doing what it can to support the victims and is working to make returning to school possible for young students in the coming weeks.

Most of the initial devastation from the fires that have killed at least 114 people as of Aug. 21 was centered near the historic seaside town of Lahaina, which was destroyed within hours once the flames broke out. The death toll, which authorities fear could still rise, has already made the catastrophe the deadliest in U.S. history.

It was near Lahaina that Bishop Larry Silva of the Diocese of Honolulu celebrated Mass on Sunday, Aug. 13 to a congregation of around 200 people at Sacred Hearts Mission Church.

“It was very, very sad. People were telling me stories about the loss of loved ones. People burning in cars, people jumping into the ocean, people being overcome by the smoke because it was just so sudden,” Bishop Silva said. “There was very little warning and the winds had picked up so much that it just stoked the fire wildly.”

Bishop Silva was in California when the wildfires broke out in Maui, initially hearing the news through a friend he was staying with. After seeing the news, he hastily returned home the next day. 

More than 1,000 people are estimated to still be missing as a result of the wildfires in Maui. Damaged cell phone towers and power outages have made it difficult for people to contact family and friends, and the search continues as the first victims are being named by officials. As of late last week, less than a dozen victims who were killed had been identified, Maui County officials said. 

The Diocese of Honolulu is working on how to get the school year back on schedule, contacting teachers and strategizing alternative ways to set up classrooms. They are looking at meeting rooms, hotel rooms, and ballrooms to have classes there. At least five of the teachers at the Sacred Hearts School — part of which was destroyed in the fires — lost their homes to the fire, which makes starting school again even more challenging.

“We really do want to get the students back to school as soon as possible so that they can be with their peers and also so that their parents can have the time that they need to fill out insurance forms, FEMA forms, find work, and do all the things that they have to do now,” he said.

The Maria Lanakila Catholic Church in Lahaina and the rectory survived the fires, despite much of the nearby area being destroyed. While this is uplifting, Bishop Silva finds hope in the people of his parish and their faith. Knights of Columbus units are coming to the island to bring school supplies and other aid to the survivors, and the diocese continues to be contacted by people who want to help however possible.

“Some people are really stepping up and trying to be as helpful as they can in giving their contributions,” Bishop Silva says. 

The Diocese of Honolulu is accepting donations on its website for rebuilding the infrastructure of the church and to help the families of those who have lost their homes.