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It’s no secret that the holiday season can be a difficult time for many, for a variety of reasons. On today’s Empowered by the Spirit broadcast, Deacon Steve welcomes two friends to the studio who have a lot of experience to share in this area. Their names are Joe Fitzgerald and Becky Lomaka, and they come to us from O’Connor Mortuary in Laguna Hills, CA.

You are sure to gain some nuggets of wisdom from this timely conversation!




Originally broadcast on 12/19/21


As some of the worst wildfires in Australian history rage across four states, thousands of people in affected areas in New South Wales and Victoria continue to be evacuated to safety. 

Soaring temperatures, often higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and a protracted drought have contributed to an unprecedented national emergency which, by Christmas, had already seen more than 14.5 million acres of forest and rural land burned. 

Amid conditions regularly described as catastrophic, fires have continued to rage in hundreds of locations in Western Australia, New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria states for months. 

Marie Burton, a parishioner of Our Lady of Sorrows Church, in the New South Wales Diocese of Wagga, lives on a farm in Jingellic, near the border with Victoria border. In late December and early January, Jingellic was surrounded by fire twice. 

“We know so many Catholic people who are being affected. There’s a lot of suffering going on, and we’re continuing to pray,” Burton said in tears. 

“Twice our home was saved. On Monday evening — and again on Tuesday. 

“The fire came up over the hill but there was no stopping it. My husband was getting things out of the house, but he was told to just get out of there. 

“We didn’t know for 24 hours (what happened) but luckily, it was saved.” 

Burton has taken shelter with her sister’s family, the Darlows, including nephew Matthew Darlow, a member of the local brigade of the Rural Fire Service. The Darlows live at Lankeys Creek, approximately 12 miles north of Jingellic. While staying with her relatives, Burton has been cooking at a shelter to feed firefighters. 

“We just need to band together, get the fires out and support those who have lost their homes and livelihoods,” said Darlow. 

“We’re waiting on a change in wind that could affect things, and an increase in temperature, tonight or tomorrow,” said Darlow, who asked Catholics around the world to pray. 

“Offer up prayers for the people who’ve lost their lives and those who’ve lost their livelihoods so that they can rebuild as quickly as possible,” he said. “And pray particularly for widespread rain across the whole country.” 

Bishop Shane Mackinlay of Diocese of Sandhurst expressed concern about “the impact that fires have already had on communities and by the anxiety that the threat of fire is causing.” 

In a statement Jan. 3, he urged “political and community leaders to continue efforts to identify and respond to the underlying causes that have contributed to the heightened risks we are facing this summer, (and) we pray for those who lost their lives, and for the safe recovery of people who are missing.” 

The fires have been burning since August and have destroyed an area comparable to the combined region of the Netherlands and Belgium. 

By Jan. 3, thousands of people were given less than 48 hours to evacuate fire-ravaged coastal communities in New South Wales. With the heat forecast for 111 degrees Fahrenheit Jan. 4, the fires were expected to worsen. 

More than 2,500 buildings have been razed and at least 20 people — 16 from New South Wales, two from Victoria and two from South Australia — have died. Officials fear the toll could rise steeply, with Victorian emergency services saying 28 people are missing in the state. 

Smoke clouds, which can be seen from space, have reached New Zealand, nearly 2,500 miles away across the Tasman Sea. 

The Gippsland region in Victoria’s east has seen convoys of people escorted by police and emergency services personnel evacuating from towns such as Corryong and Walwa in Victoria’s Alpine country. 

Catholics such as the Burtons and Darlows say their faith is strong. 

“We have a very deep faith,” said Burton. “I put a scapular on the door and sprinkled the house with holy water, and we have statues in our home, including the Infant of Prague, and so I prayed — we prayed very hard, and asked other people to pray. 

“All of these people are amazing people, with an amazing Catholic faith, and we know God will protect them,” she said. “Every time we hear good news, we’re overjoyed that these people haven’t lost their homes. There is just miracle after miracle happening.” 

In his statement, Bishop Mackinlay applauded the heroism of firefighters — mainly volunteers — risking their lives for their country and community 

In Jingellic, a young volunteer firefighter, Sam McPaul, died Dec. 30 after a freak tornado caused by the fires flipped his 11-ton truck. His wife Megan, whom he married in May, is expecting their first child. 

Similar stories can be heard across the country. In Sydney, the Mass for Sydney firefighter Andrew O’Dwyer was due to be held in the Horsley Park Parish Jan. 7. 

O’Dwyer, 36, and fellow firefighter Geoffrey Keaton, 32, were killed Dec. 19 when a fallen tree caused their tanker to roll as they fought fires south of Sydney. 

The Order of Malta Australia announced Jan. 3 it would use money from its Natural Disaster Fund to provide emergency relief to those directly impacted. 

“We are exploring opportunities with our regional Hospitallers to provide some direct assistance, with our top priority currently to provide support to the thousands who have lost homes or are stranded,” said a statement from the order.  


Melbourne, Australia, Jan 5, 2020 / 05:01 pm (CNA) – As fires throughout parts of Australia continue to worsen, the Archbishop of Melbourne called for prayers and encouraged Catholics to donate to those in need.

“On this first weekend of the New Year, we should be focusing on the joy of families, friends and holidays,” said Archbishop Peter Comensoli in a statement this weekend.

“Instead for so many, the beginning of 2020 has already been marked with loss, destruction, separation and deep sadness; and it would seem there is more to come.”

Hundreds of fires are raging throughout Australia, the worst fire season in the country’s history, according to officials. Bushfires have already scorched 12 million acres of land, more than double the acreage burned in the Amazon earlier this year. At least 19 lives have been claimed by the fires in the last few months.

The most devastated states are those of Victoria, New South Wales (NSW), and South Australia, where evacuations are taking place. On Friday, the Australian Navy helped evacuate about 1,100 people from Mallacoota, a town in coastal Victoria.

Officials said weather conditions are making it hard to fight the fires, which are expected to worsen in coming days.

According to Australia’s 9 News, eight deaths have occurred in NSW South Coast during this week alone. The media also reported that two people had died in Victoria, where 28 people are still missing. In South Australia, nearly 6000 stock animals have died, but the number is expected to rise.

Archbishop Comensoli applauded the efforts of volunteers who have taken time away from the holidays to help those in need. He also said the archdiocese has offered its support to the government.

“Into these communities too, have come hundreds of volunteers and service organisations who have given up their own family celebrations, and placed their lives on the line to bring help, support and relief where possible. There is something truly remarkable, and exceptionally humbling, about the spirit of our shared humanity that gives its all without question,” he said.

“Please know that the Archdiocese has reached out to Government and State services and offered its full support for what may be required. Some of our main support areas such as CatholicCare, Catholic Education Melbourne and St Vincent de Paul are looking to see what can be put in place.”

The archbishop recalled the heartache of the Black Saturday bushfires, which caused 174 fatalities in 2009, and encouraged Catholics to make donations to the St Vincent de Paul Bushfire Appeal. The appeal will help victims access food and clothing. It will also cover bills and help refer people to emotional support programs.

“I strongly encourage you now to direct any donations to the St. Vincent de Paul Bushfire Appeal to ensure that our brothers and sisters have a chance to rebuild their lives after such devastation. Your Parishes may look to direct specific collections this way,” he said.