After the 2018 Camp Fire ravaged Paradise, California, claiming many lives and destroying homes, the San Francisco Location of the Order of Malta reached out to sponsor two events that offered spiritual and practical support to the area’s Catholics. This April, as COVID-19 public health restrictions forced the postponement of a third event, A Mass of Miraculous Intercession, it was Paradise Catholics’ turn to lend a hand. The parish of St. Thomas More in Paradise tapped its storehouse of emergency supplies and sent the Order 500 N95 masks, which have been forwarded to virus hotspots in New York, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco.

The Order of Malta has been dedicated to us, and we have developed a wonderful relationship, said Greg Kidder

“The Order of Malta has been dedicated to us, and we have developed a wonderful relationship,” said Greg Kidder, parish steward of St. Thomas More, which lost its rectory, parish hall, and office buildings in the 2018 blaze. Since then, the parish community has shrunk from 900 families to 120 people, and local Catholics have had to attend Mass elsewhere.

“We had extra N95 masks, and decided it didn’t make sense to keep them in storage,” Kidder added, noting that the local fire department and other organizations already had a generous supply of the medical grade surgical masks. “I knew Malta would know where to send them.”

Kathleen Bruno, the San Francisco Location’s new hospitaller, gratefully received the donation. “They were so greatly appreciated and are in such demand,” said Bruno. Meanwhile, Kidder and Bruno said they are weighing the possibility of livestreaming the Mass of Miraculous Intercession.

Back in Nov. 8, 2018, Kidder led the evacuation of the parish church and school, as the wildfire overtook his town. Now he is leading the campaign to rebuild St. Thomas More’s battered community, and has welcomed the Order’s efforts to forge a partnership, beginning with a September 2019 Lourdes healing mass.

“We came back in January 2020 to hold a Mass for New Beginnings,” said Bruno. Msgr. James Kidder, the chief celebrant at the Mass and homilist, reflected back on his service in Haiti during the 2010 earthquake, sharing stories of hardships and hope that resonated with Paradise Catholics. The priest tied his experience in Haiti to Paradise, and then spoke about new beginnings.

“The first question they asked him was, When are you coming back?” said Kidder, who described the events as a “spiritual feeding” for wildfire survivors who “lived in desolation and isolation.”

The Mass of Miraculous Intercession was the next event on the calendar. “Then COVID-19 hit and we took a step back to reevaluate,” said Kidder. He noted that local Catholics were both stronger for having already survived a grave crisis, but also shaken by the new challenges that lie ahead. He is especially worried about vulnerable low-income residents, including the elderly and young families. Yet Kidder still believes that Catholics in Paradise will endure: “This will never be the end.”

Looking ahead, he is confident that the partnership with Malta will also continue in uncertain times. “When we first connected with the Order, some on my leadership team asked, What will it mean for us?” He told them, “It is not only about what you will ‘get’. Let’s see what the Holy Spirit brings us.”

Now he sees the Order as a valued “spiritual partner” in rough seas. Members “have not only come up for major events, they have come up for town hall meetings and joined conference calls. What the Order of Malta has done for us as a community is to connect us to the greater Church.”

By Newsletter Staff