Diane Kinney of Estacada (right) prays with others during a Mass led by Archbishop Alexander Sample at St. Aloysius Church Sept. 26. “We have a very close knit church. If you need something there’s always somebody there to help you," said Kinney a member of St. Aloysius for 43 years whose home was only eight blocks from the Riverside Fire. (Katharine Kimball/Catholic Sentinel)
Diane Kinney of Estacada (right) prays with others during a Mass led by Archbishop Alexander Sample at St. Aloysius Church Sept. 26. “We have a very close knit church. If you need something there’s always somebody there to help you," said Kinney a member of St. Aloysius for 43 years whose home was only eight blocks from the Riverside Fire. (Katharine Kimball/Catholic Sentinel)
ESTACADA — Portland Archbishop Alexander Sample celebrated Mass at St. Aloysius Church here Sept. 26, as residents returned to their homes after more than two weeks of evacuation in the face of the Riverside Fire.

“This has been a terrible time for all of us. I’ve been very much worried about all of you and keeping you in my prayers,” Archbishop Sample told the people. “I’m deeply sorry that so many people lost their homes in this fire and also giving thanks to God as well that it wasn’t worse. I don’t even want to think about what could’ve happened if the fire came into town.”

The Riverside Fire, which officials confirmed was human-caused, has burned more than 138,000 acres and destroyed 56 residences. It came as close as a half-mile from Estacada and little more than eight blocks from the home of Diane Kinney. Kinney, a member of St. Aloysius Parish for 43 years, was one of the thousands evacuated but, also, fortunate that her home did not burn. She was one of many in attendance who raised their hands acknowledging they knew someone who had lost their home.

The fire burned five metal outbuildings at a home that Kinney and her husband built and sold years ago. The home and its current residents remained unharmed. Kinney credited the priest who blessed the house, plus a visiting Muslim friend from Saudi Arabia who also offered a blessing years back. Kinney explained that the fire burned her son’s backyard up to his deck.

“We were watching the smoke from afar and we knew it was coming to us quickly,” said another parishioner, Bernadette Arnold of Eagle Creek. “It was devastating to see it coming towards you.” In recent days, the smoke has cleared and the fire is 37% contained. Full containment is expected by the end of October. “We are back in our home happily, and everything is almost back to normal, but I still have my suitcase packed just in case,” Arnold said.

Tears started to well in the eyes of Bea Morales as she described evacuating her home with her husband and cat. A neighbor and friend named Harvey came to her house to try and help them even as his own home was burning. Morales has lived in Estacada since 1983.

Much of Archbishop Sample’s homily focused on the greater good that happens as a result of suffering. “God allows suffering. He allows these crosses in our lives always and only for one reason, and that is to draw a greater good from them,” he said.

Deacon Del DeSart was moved by the archbishop’s “sincere sorrow … expressed for the loss of, not just the people in Estacada, but in all of Oregon, for the people who lost their homes.” This weekend, Archbishop Sample visits the Santiam area.

Bernadette Arnold added, “For so long being the liturgy director here, people come to me and feel as if the archbishop doesn’t care about them because it’s a small community. I assured them whether it’s a small church or a big church, he cares for everyone.”

Archbishop Sample also shared that he rides a motorcycle and has ridden frequently along the Clackamas River. “That’s one of my favorite rides down along the river,” he said. “This area is very dear to me.”

Bea Morales said she was grateful that the archbishop reached out and visited them. She also enjoyed hearing that the archbishop rides a motorcycle. “I asked him to honk his biker horn when he comes by Estacada,” she said.