Miami Catholics Respond to Horror of Champlain Towers Collapse | Catholic National Register


MIAMI – When Father Juan Sosa got up early on June 24, he went out for his daily morning walk. The pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Miami Beach left his home at around 6:15 am. As soon as he left Father Sosa sensed that something was wrong.

“When I started walking I heard sirens and thought there must be a car accident. I am still walking towards the beach, but I have found that I cannot cross the street, ”said Father Sosa.

The road had been blocked by police barriers.

Father Sosa finally walked to an area of ​​the beach that was not off-limits and saw the collapsed 12-story South Champlain Towers building in Surfside. He was completely horrified. The buildings are only two blocks from his parish.

“There were already a number of my parishioners on the beach watching. Some were taking photos of the disaster, ”he said. “I immediately thought, ‘I hope the people I know weren’t on this side of the building.’ It took me a while to visualize that this was the part of the building closest to the pool. I didn’t realize it.

Many members of the Saint-Joseph parish community lived there. The collapse devastated the parish – and the rest of South Florida – deeply.

“Many people in the parish knew the registered parishioners (who lived there) and some of the friends who were in the building, in the section that collapsed. They were people who were close to the church, who came to church, who presented their children for first communion, some for baptism. Some old people came to daily mass, ”said Father Sosa.

There were 12 condominium residents who were registered in Saint Joseph Parish. Two units had been sold recently. A unit owner was able to escape from the rubble as soon as the collapse occurred.

“The other eight condominium families are the ones we pray for, and anyone else. There were 60 apartments involved in the collapse, and an average of three or four people lived there. There could be between 25 and 30 people missing from the parish, ”said Father Sosa.

It is difficult to find exact figures as some people were traveling, while others were renting their apartments with Airbnb during the summer.

Father Sosa had personally been invited several times to the families of the building for dinner or simply for visits.

“It is very impacting to know that they have not been found,” he said.

At 9:00 a.m. that day, the parish began calling all registered families who lived in the Champlain Tower.

“We got a call from a parishioner, who had another house in Miami, and is coming back to the tower on weekends. This couple called me, ”said Father Sosa. “I told them, ‘Thank God you’re safe. But what about the other people we had dinner with? They were very sad when they said to me: “I think they are under the rubble”.

Three parishioners who had survived the rubble came to mass on Sunday and were celebrated by the whole parish. But everyone is still waiting to know the fate of the rest of the group.

“A husband was found last night. He was dead. He was the father of two daughters who were very involved in our parish, in the religious education program. His two daughters and his wife have still not been found, ”said Father Sosa.

The answer

The Archdiocese of Miami arranged for priests to attend the family reunification center near the collapsed building. The priests took turns to console and serve the families who are waiting to see if the bodies of their loved ones will be found or saved from the rubble.

As it is the seventh day since the South Champlain Tower building collapsed, hope begins to fade that someone else can be found alive – although some people survive even longer. In Haiti’s massive earthquake in 2010, a man survived 12 days under a collapsed building. In 2013, a woman survived for 17 days when a garment factory collapsed on her in Bangladesh.

Surfside is a Jewish neighborhood in Miami. This part of Miami Beach is one-third Jewish, with a large Orthodox Jewish population. Therefore, priests and rabbis look after families in the same hotel lobby; a unique ecumenical moment in the midst of tragedy. No journalist or photographer was allowed there, so that families can mourn in peace.

“From the start of this disaster, different denominations addressed the families. The priests and the rabbis worked together, ”said Jackie Carrion, senior director of community services for Catholic Charities in Miami.

Saint-Joseph parish held a vigil Saturday evening in response to the collapse.

“The young adults in our parish put it in place. They gathered at 9 p.m. and met with a procession as close as possible to the site. It included music, prayers and the display of the Blessed Sacrament. We did it to convey hope. It was very busy. Even the mayor of Surfside was there for the first hour, ”said Father Sosa.

Clockwise from left: The rescue effort is seen from afar three nights after the collapse; a growing memorial on the site reflects the sorrow and prayers of the community.

“Our hearts are heavy”

Our Lady of Lourdes Academy, a Catholic high school for girls in South Miami, was also affected by this tragedy.

“We have five families who have been affected in one way or another,” said Olga Martinez, admissions director at the Académie Notre-Dame de Lourdes. “In total, there are 10 people who are among the missing.”

Some of these families at the Académie Notre-Dame de Lourdes have grandparents who are trapped inside. Another school graduate has a brother inside. Another graduate has lost her parents.

“Tragedy strikes very close to home. Our hearts are heavy. People are constantly turning to school in disbelief and shock, ”Martinez said.

The school decided to organize a virtual rosary live on Instagram this Thursday evening. By praying the Rosary from a distance, people who are connected to the school but live far away can participate.

“Each decade will be dedicated to one of the affected families, and we will have someone from that family leading that decade,” Martinez said.

The Belen Jesuit Preparatory School, a prestigious college and high school for boys, was also affected by the collapse. Eleven members of the Belen community are missing.

A rosary was held in Belen Jesuit on Monday evening to pray for the affected families, as well as the rest of those who are missing.

“In the very near future, structural engineers, architects and experts of all kinds will report early Thursday morning what went wrong with the Champlain South towers. There is no doubt that the detailed report will give precise explanations as to why this building collapsed, ”Jesuit Father Guillermo García-Tuñón, President of Belen, told the crowd that had gathered at the school.

He went on to say that structural answers to what was wrong would not be enough.

“In the end, not all physical research will provide the kind of healing and peace that so many people desperately need and deserve,” he said. “… This is why prayer is so important. “

“That’s why we’re here tonight. Our community is suffering. Some of our members have suffered great loss and are ignorant of their loved ones. So we come together in prayer for strength and to strengthen others, ”he said.

Catholic Charities Miami has been present at Ground Zero for Champlain Towers since Thursday of last week.

“We provided counseling, rapid relocation services and emergency food cards. These are gift cards for local grocery stores. We also have a few housing units available for families who need it, ”Carrion said.

The two centers operating near Surfside ground zero since last Thursday serve two different purposes: the Family Reunification Center is where families come together to get official updates and receive spiritual help, and the Center Family Aid – run by Miami Dade County and the Red Cross – is where families can turn for help and services.

The death toll currently stands at 16, with 147 people missing. As rescue teams continue to work tirelessly to find a sign of life under the rubble, Miami’s Catholic and Jewish community continues to pray and hope for a miracle.

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