A parish community is mourning and praying for the victims of a Bronx fire as archdiocesan Catholic Charities collaborates with other agencies to offer assistance to those affected.
Seventeen people, including eight children, were killed Jan. 9 in a fire started by a space heater in a 19-story building near St. Simon Stock Church, where a Mass was offered the next evening. The blaze was the worst in New York City in three decades.
Auxiliary Bishop Peter Byrne was the principal celebrant and Father Michael Kissane, O.Carm., pastor of St. Simon Stock, delivered the homily.
Father Kissane reflected on seeing the building on the afternoon of the fire with Father Paul Richmond, O. Carm., parochial vicar of St. Simon Stock, and thought of three words—time, faith and gratitude.
“As a community and as faithful people, we can give thanks that many more did not lose their lives,” he said in his homily. “We can give thanks for the extraordinary work of the first responders. We can give thanks for all the men and women who risked their own lives to help people who they did not even know.”
Father Kissane concluded his bilingual homily by saying, “Let us pray for all those affected by this tragedy. After all, prayer is the one thing we could do. We could pray God will help them in this very painful moment. We could also pray God will take all of the deceased into the palm of His hand. May they rest in peace.”
Bishop Byrne later spoke of the generosity of so many people who stepped forward to help, and the generosity of everyone who attended this Mass.
“We believe as Catholics in purgatory, we know we can help the deceased by our prayers,” he said. “It’s a great act of charity that we do and it’s a great act of charity that you have done by coming here tonight.”
On the morning of the Mass, Father Kissane told CNY that one family from the parish lived in the Twin Peaks North West building whose 120 units are mostly occupied by immigrants from Gambia, a primarily Muslim nation in West Africa.
“They’re fine, but the apartment was destroyed, and they’re now staying with a relative in New Jersey,” he said.
Cardinal Dolan visited the scene with firefighters the morning after the fire.
“It doesn’t get worse than what we witnessed yesterday at that tragic fire in the Bronx,” Cardinal Dolan said on his Facebook page. “I’m visiting the scene with the fire companies that responded so that I might see how the Church can assist. Thank God for the New York City Fire Department.”
Archdiocesan Catholic Charities will be collaborating with other agencies to assist the victims, their families and others affected by the fire.
“Our prayers to the victims and families, especially those who lost children and loved ones,” Father Eric Cruz, Bronx regional coordinator for archdiocesan Catholic Charities since 2012, told CNY.
“It’s always a very difficult time for them and for neighbors and friends especially in the wake of the holidays whether you’re Muslim, Catholic or just people of good will and faith. We extend our support and prayers to them, but we also do so as we will accompany, collaborate and help console them.
“We will be doing so in collaboration as a support base to local hospitals where victims are being treated, social work offices as well as pastoral care offices of these respected hospitals where victims of the fire are being treated and being cared for.
“We also will be collaborating with the American Red Cross and other community agencies that seek assistance and we will participate in any type of donation drives with our elected officials who have been so proactive on this front with us and our local community.”
Father Cruz, a Bronx native, met with victims, their families and friends at the scene on the day of the fire. There, he recalled two fires in the Bronx—the Happy Land social club fire that killed 87 people in 1990 when he was in high school and the apartment fire that killed 13 individuals just days after Christmas in 2017.
Father Cruz is encouraged thus far by the response to the recent fire.
“We have a long way to go,” he said. “I think we’re off to a good start, all things considered. The outreach, the collaboration that will occur from this, so many genuinely interested, sincerely loving and caring people organizationally or individually that have knocked on the door. They want to help and we’re moving ahead in that spirit of love and compassion.”
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