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Anglicans caught up in La Palma eruption

24 September 2021


A clothesline survives the lava from the ongoing volcanic eruption at La Palma, Spain, on Monday

A clothesline survives the lava from the ongoing volcanic eruption at La Palma, Spain, on Monday

ANGLICAN parishioners in the Canary Islands are hoping to resume normal life and church acivities after earthquakes and a volcanic eruption at the weekend devastated parts of the Spanish archipelago.

“A number of people have moved out to stay elsewhere — and, while no one is in direct danger, some homes certainly are,” the Suffragan Bishop in Europe, the Rt Revd David Hamid, said on Tuesday.

“Most church members are British retirees: some on their own and quite senior in age — and, since they don’t have a strong family support network here to back them up, unlike native Canarians, they’re counting on the goodwill of friends and local parishioners. But it’s one of the strengths of the Church in the Canaries that there’s a strong community spirit within our Anglican chaplaincies. People are always good at helping each other.”

The London-based bishop spoke as Spanish emergency workers battled to save properties and lands on La Palma, one of the seven main islands, after the massive volcanic eruption at Cumbre Vieja on Sunday afternoon.

The Gibraltar archdeaconry had not so far received requests for practical help, but would offer all possible support if asked, he said.

A parishioner close to the epicentre on La Palma, Alan Chopping, said that the worst pre-eruption tremor had come during the Sunday eucharist at St Martin of Porres, El Paso, which is shared with the Roman Catholics; but, he said, he counted on the resumption of normal church activities “as soon as possible”.

A scientist and musician, M Chopping said: “Measuring devices around the island had already detected many seismic movements, but halfway through the service there was this massive shake which shocked everyone.

“It’s still an evolving situation, but the local authorities are handling it well. While some residents have been evacuated to a former army barracks on the east coast, the British consulate in Tenerife has been advising our nationals about what to do if things get worse.”

Spanish TV reported that more than 25,000 minor tremors had been detected in the eight days before the eruption, which was followed by four substantial earthquakes, raising La Palma’s landmass by 15cm.

More than 6000 people had been evacuated by mid-week from El Paso, Tazacorte, and Los Llanos de Aridane, away from the path of the lava, which had so far buried at least 300 homes, as well as roads, farms, and a primary school.

Maritime officials established an exclusion zone of two nautical miles from La Palma’s west coast, amid fears that the molten rock, moving at 200 metres an hour, could release toxic gases when it reached the sea.

The Prime Minister of Spain, Pedro Sánchez, postponed a trip to this week’s United Nations summit in New York, to oversee rescue efforts on the island, which has 80,000 inhabitants and is popular with tourists.

A Roman Catholic priest in El Paso, Fr Domingo Guerra, said that the lava flow, which could continue for weeks, was “much more worrying and overwhelming” than previous Cumbre Vieja eruptions, in 1949 and 1971.

Fr Antonio Hernandez, another parish priest, told Spain’s RC weekly Alfa y Omega that Christians had been left “bewildered and impressed by the beauty of this manifestation of nature”, but said that he had hurriedly removed the tabernacle and other precious objects from his church at Los Llanos, which remained in the path of the lava.

“Parts of our parishes are now in the closed security zone: we’ve had to make choices and take out what we could, while also offering shelter to those made homeless,” Fr Hernandez told the newspaper.

“These are humble, hard-working people — mostly farmers, with a few officials — who’ve built their own homes and livelihoods here. We must now wait to see if the worst predictions come true, or whether we’ll obtain a truce and still be able save our neighbourhoods”.

Apart from the predominant Roman Catholic Church, which has two dioceses in the Canaries — Tenerife and Gran Canaria — there are half a dozen Anglican communities, mostly made up of British citizens, with some American, Canadian, and African members, and seven full-time priests.

The Chaplain of All Saints’, Puerto de La Cruz, in Tenerife, the Revd Ron Corne, whose church, dedicated in 1891, is believed to be the oldest Anglican place of worship in Spain, requested prayers for those who had lost homes and livelihoods on La Palma, as well as for the emergency services who are still struggling to contain the disaster.

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