KITV / YouTube

Over two weeks after a series of wildfires that have devastated Lahaina, the former capital of the Hawaiian kingdom, its residents continue to grapple with despair and hope. To date, over 100 people have been confirmed dead, while over 800 remain missing. The damage to businesses and homes is estimated to be around $6 billion, with thousands of structures having been destroyed during the fires. One structure, however, remains standing amidst all the ash and destruction: the historic Maria Lanakila Catholic Church. Despite everything around the church being destroyed, Father Terrence Watanabe told KITV that the church seemed to have been miraculously preserved. “In everyday life, we keep looking for signs of God’s love and presence, and that’s why this is such an important sign and symbol to us,” he said. “Even the flowers at the foot of the altar were not withered.” A video shared on the church’s Facebook page on August 11th shows the church standing apparently unscathed amidst a sea of ashes.

The church, whose name translates to “Lady of Victory,” was established in Lahaina in 1846 by Father Aubert of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Mary and Jesus. The building has undergone a few improvements and renovations throughout its history and houses some paintings of unknown origin. The paintings are thought to be gifts from an Alii (Hawaiian noble), possibly from King Kalakaua or his sister, Queen Liliuokalani. Speaking to Fox NewsWatanabe called the building’s survival “amazing.” “What’s even more amazing is all the buildings directly behind the church, the preschool, the convent, the two school buildings, as well as the parish hall, all of it burned to the ground, but the church is still standing, and everything around the church is in ashes,” he said. “This is just, for us, a wonderful sign that God doesn’t abandon his people. So, we’re very grateful for that.”

The church is using its good fortune to help others as well. Church members are collecting donations for the thousands of displaced people, as well as offering counseling and spiritual support. The church held mass in its building on Sunday. Additionally, the church is seeking to construct up to 350 tiny houses to house workers who come in to rebuild or to house people displaced by the fire. Watanabe calls it an action of faith. “Calling upon the Lord to be with us and finding strength and the support that we can give to one another. That’ll help us get through, you know, because the rebuilding is going to take years, and so we need to support one another throughout all of this and make sure we have the hope that we need to do it.” The church’s Facebook page is filled with its efforts to help revitalize the community. In its most recent post at the time of this writing, the church had posted this prayer: “Jesus has mercy on us… Heal our land, heal us, oh Lord, we lift up to you all those who are sick, aged, most especially those displaced families, hospitalized, victims of this tragedy, and most especially those who need you the most at this time…” Donations can be made to assist the people of Lahaina here.

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