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: Forming mind and heart in faith

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“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2).

People tell me pretty regularly that we should not over-intellectualizing the faith — making the Church simply about ideas, doctrines, and rules. I agree that this can be a problem, but we also have to guard seriously against an opposite problem — emotionalizing and privatizing faith. We are blessed with a reasonable faith that can be studied in harmony with the truth of the natural world. Faith and reason strengthen one another, together leading our minds to conform to the mind of the God who is our Creator and Redeemer. In the midst of a secularism which pits science against the faith, it is important that we form our minds in the truth. Being rooted in the truth of our faith does not lead to abstract ideas, but to an encounter with the living God which sets our hearts on fire with His love.

The Dominicans have a long history of teaching the faith, founded originally to preach to those who had fallen into the dualistic heresy of Albigensian and producing the Common Doctor of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas. The papal theologian, who advised the pope, by tradition comes from St. Dominic’s Order. One of the most renown Dominicans teaching in the United States, Father Thomas Joseph White, has recently been called to Rome to teach at the Angelicum, the Pontifical University of the Dominicans. Father White, though a profound scholar, has produced a clear and accessible overview of the Catholic faith.

Father White’s book, The Light of Christ: An Introduction to Catholicism (Catholic University of America Press, 2017) offers a serious overview of the Catholic faith. It is not a scholarly work, but one that does challenge us to enter more deeply into the theological tradition of the Church, flowing from the Bible and Catechism, the Fathers, and especially the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas. Part of the genius of the book is how it uses the theological tradition to address contemporary concerns such as evolution, sexual ethics, and relativism. The book contains seven major sections—Reason and Revelation, God and Trinity, Creation and the Human Person, Incarnation and Atonement, the Church, Social Doctrine, and the Last Things—as well as a robust epilogue on prayer.

Father White challenges us to “to be an intellectual. . . to seek to see into the depths of reality” (1). As intellectual beings, we have been created in the image of God and are called to enter into his truth and life. Therefore, White reminds us that “every person has to accept risk in truth’s call to us. Even religious indifference is a kind of risk, perhaps the greatest of all, for if nothing is ventured, nothing is gained. The mind is reason’s instrument, but the heart its seat” (5). Therefore, the ultimate questions lead the mind into prayerful contemplation of the truth. Theology cannot remain an intellectual enterprise alone, but must lead us to encounter God in prayer: “Prayer is grounded in our natural desire for the truth. When we pray we are trying to find God, to praise him, and to see all things realistically in light of him. In a sense, then, prayer stems from a search for perspective” (288).

Our faith forms us as a whole person and shapes our feelings and desires according to what is highest. Father White rightly points out that “heart and intelligence go together” (49). When it comes to God, intellectual theory is not enough, as he calls us to know him in a “concrete, personal, affective relationship” (48). This does not mean that we can dispense with theology. Quite to the contrary, “we want to get right who God is, and what the mystery of Christ is, so that we can be in living contact with divine love” (42). God speaks to us so that we may come to know him by exercising our minds to know the truth given us through the Church (36).

Knowing God is the work a lifetime and our eternal vocation. We can strengthen our faith by studying theological truths and deepening our capacity to contemplate divine things. Father White’s book will help us all to be theologians, entering into the practice of theology as faith seeking understanding. As we come to know God more, it should lead us to fall in love with him more deeply, strengthening our relationship with him and preparing us to see him face to face.