SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - A gathering at the front of the Old Mission Santa Barbara brought religious and community leaders together with local residents and visitors for an inter faith service after the devastating Thomas fire.
It was part of the newly designed “12 Days of Gratitude” to help the area recover after a wide range of losses.
Those ranged from total destruction of property to a worker who no longer has a job. There were also personal impacts from the shock of the fire's threat to the greater south coast population in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties.
Father Larry Gosselin said to the audience seated in front of the iconic building, “the Thomas fire has caused such devastation as it ravaged up our coast here."
The message from those speaking at the event was to convert the tragedy into something of a renewed life for Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties. "The fire itself did great destruction to the material world, to our earth. But it also did something to our human spirit. It did something that needs to be healed," said Gosselin.
Afar Turjoman with the Islamic Society said she recalled the days of uncertainty during the fire throughout the community. "We held each other's hands and each others hearts. We opened our homes to those who needed homes and we held our breath not knowing when the wind will pick up again."
With that however, came hope.
One of the event planners, John Vasellina said “peace lies with each of us. Nothing can destroy that not a fire a tornado or a hurricane or an earthquake."
Rabbi Arthur Gross-Schaefer, of the Santa Barbara Shul representing the Jewish community said, “we come together in times of deep challenge and also a time of deep need to help heal with each other."
The city of Santa Barbara did not lose a house but there were tremendous economic impacts from the fire that are still being totaled due to the lost tourism and foul air that kept holiday shoppers away.
Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider said the city will recover, and get the word out that it is open for business. However those attending the event sense the message from the religious leaders she said, “may it bring you strength, may it bring you peace and may we become more than the sum of our parts."
Prior to the final moments when holy water is gently splashed over the crowd, Father Larry spoke strongly saying, "we're rising from the ashes. The fire will not destroy us! The love that we feel will empower us and rise us."
Vrajaprana from the Vedanta Hindu Society Temple in Montecito held her hands together and with closed eyes said, “may that peace, true peace illuminate in our hearts and understanding and may we take that peace out to the community with us. Peace, peace, peace, peace be un to us all. "