Man witnessed jumping from Denver blaze says God was present

Elías Venegas, 53, the man who was witnessed hanging from the third floor trying to escape the raging fire that rapidly consumed the construction site at 18th and Emerson on Wed., March 7, says he was not alone. He has no broken bones and suffered no organ damage or concussion. He’s simply sore.

“I felt that God was there and that he acted. He was protecting me,” Venegas told the Denver Catholic. “That’s how he manifests himself in our lives.”

Venegas was the person farthest away from the exit, as he was on the roof of the five-story building when the fire broke out.

“I finished eating [on the roof] and told one of my co-workers I had to call my wife,” he said. “So, I walked away from them, who were next to the ladder, to the opposite side of the roof. And as I was walking back, I saw smoke coming up one side of the building, and yelled to warn them. If I hadn’t walked that way to call my wife, I don’t know what would have happened.”

He remembers the next few seconds confusedly, but he recalls running behind his colleagues down to the third floor, where authorities believe the fire originated. There, he encountered a thick cloud of black smoke, so much that he lost sight of his co-workers and could barely see the ladder leading to the second floor. It was almost completely dark.

“I decided not to go down. Something was telling me not to go through there,” Venegas said.

Instead, he ran to the first opening he saw, a balcony door that had wood studs running across it for safety. He got to the outside of the building and tried to swing himself to the second floor, but as he was hanging, he realized it was impossible.

There he was photographed by a witness, just as he was getting ready let go.

Elías Venegas was on the roof of the five-story building when the fire broke out and only had a few seconds to escape. (Photo provided)

“My arms got tired and my hands started burning. It was too hot,” Venegas recalled. “I looked down and thought, ‘I can’t jump, it’s too high!’

“I then remember letting go, and as I was letting go, I felt a cool breeze, as if someone had blown at my face. And I didn’t feel anything else. I don’t remember falling or landing. The next thing I remember is people around me asking me if I was OK. I got up confused and dizzy, but my only clear thought was that I had to call my wife.”

His co-workers, who had barely made it out safely, didn’t see him come out of the building and thought he hadn’t made it, so when they saw him on the street, they received him with much joy.

Venegas was taken to the hospital that afternoon and the following day for a general check-up, x-rays and other tests, but there was nothing wrong with him.

“I’m just a bit sore,” Venegas said with a smile on his face. “Everyone was amazed, even the doctors, that I had no broken bones or other serious injuries. The nurse, the security officer and my supervisor said it was a miracle that nothing happened to me jumping from that height.”

Venegas, who is a catechist at St. Pius X Parish in Aurora and a volunteer in other archdiocesan organizations such as the San Pablo School of Evangelization for the Hispanic community with his wife, Raquel, is mostly grateful for being alive.

“God didn’t want me there [in Heaven] because I have yet to finish my mission here on earth,” Venegas said. “It saddens me to think that two other workers couldn’t escape. I will be praying for them and their families.”

“I feel very grateful for this new opportunity that God has given me,” he said. “We proclaim a living God and I was able to experience that. He’s not just something that happened 2,000 years ago. He still acts in our present world. I’ve seen it and so have many other people.”

(Featured image from Denver Fire Department Facebook)

COMING UP: Should the Church talk about money? If we follow Christ’s teaching, yes.

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In Luke Chapter 3, three different groups asked John the Baptist what they should do to bear the fruit of repentance. John gives three answers: 1) Everyone should share clothes and food with the poor; 2) Tax collectors shouldn’t pocket extra money; and 3) Soldiers should be content with their wages and not extort money. Each answer John gives is related to money and possessions, but no one asked him about that! They only ask how to demonstrate the fruit of spiritual transformation. They don’t grasp John the Baptist’s perspective, that he could not talk about spirituality without talking about how to handle money and possessions.

Jesus puts some harsh words in God’s mouth in the “Parable of the Rich Fool.” In Luke 12:20, we hear: “But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong? Thus will it be for one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.”

Alternatively, Jesus provides some great promises on both sides of that parable. In Luke 11:41: “…give alms and behold, everything will be clean for you.” And in Luke 12:33: “…give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven.”

When my wife Cathy and I were experiencing our conversion to the Lord in the early 1990s, we decided we were going to try to live out our Catholic faith to the full: in our attending Mass every Sunday, in our family and in our checkbook.

So, despite four young kids and no way of knowing if we could afford to send them to Catholic school or college, we started tithing. One thing it dramatically did was contribute to our growth in faith and trust in God. We truly believed in God’s promise that He never will be outdone in generosity. And now, 25 years later, we can only rejoice that we still are doing fine despite paying for Catholic schools, colleges and three daughters’ weddings! So what, that we are driving two cars that have 365,000 miles between them!

When we created our will back then, we decided to leave 10% of our assets to the Church. After I became President of The Catholic Foundation in 2012, we became aware of the concept to “treat the Church like one of your children.” We thought that made a lot of sense, so we changed our will to do just that … such that our four children and The Catholic Foundation will each receive 20% of our estate.

Today, we are not sure how our kids will be able to do what we did; with Denver’s crazy housing market, how will they be able to afford Catholic school for their kids, future colleges and, someday, weddings? It looks daunting for them. Shouldn’t we leave them 100% instead of just 80%? For us, it was an easy decision—better to give them a portion with God’s blessing than to think they’d be better off with it all. Besides, they are helping themselves have the best chance possible.

How? By doing their own tithing! I remember years ago, when the business manager at our parish called me to ensure that it was okay that our daughter had made a large contribution to the parish. Cathy and I were unaware she had done so. What had she done? She had tithed her high school graduation gift money. You can imagine how proud we felt.

A “planned gift” through a will or another avenue is the easiest gift to make because it only gets made when we can’t use it anymore – at least, not in this world. Maybe it can be better used by God and his Church. Listen to Revelation 14:13: “I heard a voice from Heaven say, ‘write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, said the Spirit, let them find rest from their labors, for their works accompany them.’ ”

Cathy and I want our works to accompany us, as we are sure you do, too. We have been saved by Jesus for eternal life – let us make sure our faith in that is manifested in our living and in our giving.

Would you prayerfully discern how God is calling you to steward the assets He has entrusted to you? We hope we and you hear these words someday from Jesus (Matthew 25:34): “Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

Deacon Steve Stemper is CEO & President of The Catholic Foundation. Please contact him at (303) 468-9885 if you would like a meeting to discuss how your planned giving can be used for God’s Kingdom.