Man witnessed jumping from Denver blaze says God was present

Vladimir Mauricio-Perez

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: For Love of Country: A Catholic Patriotism

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Our country has been through a lot this last year, as we all know. As many people have reacted against the founding and history of the United States, I have found myself drawn towards greater patriotism. By this, I simply mean a deeper appreciation of what I’ve been given by my country and also a growing realization of the duty I have to work for the common good, here and now. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of this duty under the fourth commandment that enjoins honor not only to parents but also to anyone in authority.   

It is the duty of citizens to contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom. The love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity. Submission to legitimate authorities and service of the common good require citizens to fulfill their roles in the life of the political community (2239). 

Catholics, and all people of good will, are called to a love and service of country in order to work for the common good.  

Eric Metaxas argues that the future of our country depends precisely upon the active role of Christians in his book, If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty (Penguin, 2017). He describes something called the Golden Triangle, an idea he borrowed from Os Guinness, but which ultimately comes from the Founding Fathers. “The Golden Triangle of Freedom is, when reduced to its most basic form, that freedom requires virtue; virtue requires faith; and faith requires freedom. The three go round and round, supporting one another ad infinitum. If any one of the three legs of the triangle is removed, the whole structure ceases to exist” (54). John Adams, for example, related very clearly, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other” (quoted on 61). Metaxas comments, looking to specific examples around the world, “if you take God and faith and morality out of the equation, everything inevitably falls apart. It cannot be otherwise” (48). It cannot be otherwise. That may sound extreme, but we have many examples from Communist and Fascist countries and now even from movements within our country that aggressive secularism parallels a collapse of real freedom.  

The Constitution established an ordered liberty that requires responsibility and a determined effort of preservation. Hence the title of the book, taken from Benjamin Franklin, a republic “if you can keep it.” We are called to actively preserve our country: entering into a deeper understanding of the “idea” of America that undergirds the Republic as well as showing a loving determination to overcome challenges and threats to its continuance. This is not to whitewash the past, as we all know the injustices of our history. Metaxas argues that we can be grateful for the good and unique blessings of our heritage while also working to overcome failures. “To truly love America, one must somehow see both sides simultaneously” (226). Furthermore, by loving our country we are willing her good, drawing our own selves into the work for her good and helping her to be true to herself. “So that in loving America we are embodying her original intentions — we are indeed being America at her best — and in doing so we are calling her to her best, to be focused on doing all she can to fulfill the great promise which God has called her in bringing her into existence and shepherding her through trials and tribulations all these and centuries — and now” (235).  

As Catholics, we have a lot to offer our country by drawing from our rich intellectual and spiritual heritage. Michael Krom, a philosopher at St. Vincent College, provides us with a great resource in his new book, Justice and Charity: An Introduction to Aquinas’s Moral, Economic, and Political Thought (Baker, 2020). In an age of confusion, Catholics can bring greater clarity in our national discourse on the nature of human life, virtue, and politics. “We live in a time of ideological conflicts, in which the citizens of the nations of the modern world seem incapable of agreeing upon even the most basic of moral, economic, or political principles. Civil discourse has been replaced with violent protest, and reasoned dialogue with character assassination” (2). As Catholics, we should be able to look above all of this, literally: “While the Church does not force us to reject political citizenship, she demands that we direct it to the heavenly, and we can do that by heeding her call to engage the world rather than conform to it. I wrote this book out of the conviction that those who want to heed the Church’s call to engage our culture need to look to the past” (ibid.).  

Dr. Krom shows us that St. Thomas Aquinas has much to teach us about living the good life, in pursuit of a genuine freedom and happiness, and that this should inform a Catholic approach to economics and politics. It is hard to work for virtue if you don’t know what virtue really is, and difficult to act justly toward others if you don’t understand the nature of duty. Aquinas can help us to judge the direction of our country, as “a government cannot be called ‘good’ unless it promotes just moral and economic relationships between its citizens” (121). This is precisely the purpose of government — to promote right order and peace. We can’t just dispense with politics because, “the fact that humans find their fulfillment in political community means that situating their own good with the good of the community as a whole is central to happiness” (125). We are not isolated individuals and can’t attain a good and complete life on our own.  

Our ultimate good, however, is God, not the political life. Everything — all of our choices, including economic and political ones — must be directed to our ultimate goal. There are not “two ends to human existence, the earthly and the heavenly … [T]here is only one end, the beatific vision” (162). In this way the Church informs our citizenship. Krom explains “how inadequate this human law is as a teacher in the virtues, for it is limited in scope to the prevention of those vices from which even the wicked can refrain, and thus leaves those who seek after perfect virtue to their own devices … [H]uman law is in need of a higher law to truly bring about a just community” (155). Unfortunately, we’re seeing that our society is no longer even trying to prevent serious vice. Catholics and all believers have an important role to play, because “the lack of religion in the citizenry leads it down the path of totalitarianism. It Is absolutely critical that a people maintain a strong commitment to a transcendent measure of the common good in order to protect the true flourishing of its members” (171). Krom’s important work on justice and charity can teach us how a Catholic can exercise a proper patriotism, a true love of country.