Lima, Peru, Nov 21, 2016 / 03:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- When a deadly fire broke out at a mall in Lima, Peru last week, fire fighters responded to put out the flames and rescue those trapped inside the building.
With them was Fr. Christopher Dunn Mahardy, the 62-year-old American Franciscan priest who serves as chaplain of the Volunteer Firemen's Company in the San Juan de Miraflores district in Lima.
“I was praying the Rosary for the victims and for the firemen as they were working,” Fr. Christopher told CNA. “I also assisted the relatives of the people who died so they could regain their composure. When they pulled out one of the bodies I offered the final prayers.”
On Nov. 16, a fire was reported in the movie theater at the Larcomar mall, located in the Miraflores district of Lima. At least four people were killed. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
The Expreso Peruvian daily reported that the fire occurred in the morning hours in Auditorium 10 of the UVK theater chain, shortly before a special press screening of the “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” film.
According to the newspaper, “the authorities reported that the flames spread because of a highly flammable type of insulation which covers the wall of this movie theater to contain sound.”
— Diario Expreso Perú (@ExpresoPeru) November 17, 2016
Fr. Christopher was among those who responded. In addition to working as a parish priest in a church on the outskirts of Lima, he also works as chaplain for the Miraflores Volunteer Fireman’s Company three part-days per week.
The priest came to Peru in 1981 and joined the Peruvian Fire Department after the earthquake that leveled the city of Pisco in 2007.
Certified in several courses by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the United States, Fr. Christopher has also completed certification in psychology and patient management in disasters, strengthening his commitment to the firemen's company.
When the alarm sounds at the fire station, the chaplain leads the medical unit, making use of the medical knowledge he gained when he participated as a volunteer in an emergency medical unit in New York.
“I am always watching out for the welfare of the fire fighters,” he said. “I also help them with everything related to their faith, their family life, and with their stress management training. I'm with them, I pray with them, I accompany them, I encourage them.”
Regarding the spiritual life of a fireman, Fr. Christopher said that they must have a “strong faith” because they have to “live on the edge of death every day.”
“To be a fireman is a form of disinterested service and of mercy, to help those in a difficult situation. What has touched my heart is to see the service the firemen perform in extreme situations,” the priest told CNA.
“Even though the Fire Department is very poor and does not have much equipment, its members are very big-hearted,” the priest emphasized.
Speaking to the Peruvian Volunteer Firemen's Journal in 2009, Fr. Christopher said that “serving as a chaplain serves the local community” and allows him to “stand in solidarity with all the firemen in the world who risk their lives to save others and their property.”