July 9, 2021


Young people, school communities offer powerful example of faith

Many of us continue to have a sense of helplessness as we see more bodies pulled from the rubble of a partially collapsed beachfront high-rise apartment building in Surfside, Fla.

As The Criterion went to press on July 6, there were 32 confirmed deaths and 113 people unaccounted for as a result of the June 24 tragedy, according to local law enforcement officials.

But as our hearts ache for the families, friends and community who continue to reel from the unimaginable, we also see the power of prayer.

One only need to look at young people in a parish and those connected to school communities in south Florida to see an example of faith in action.

At St. Joseph Parish in nearby Miami Beach, teenagers, young adults and other members of the community took part in a June 26 prayer vigil, which included eucharistic adoration, recitation of the rosary, songs and reflections. The parish was especially hard hit, as 12 parish families were affected by the tragedy, eight of whom remain missing. Church leaders also pointed out that many others who lived in the condos were likely informally associated with the parish.

“Our pastor [Father Juan Sosa] wanted the youth to be present and, of course, we responded with generosity, and we put together the best we could since this is the parish nearest the disaster and it is a place where people can come and pray and be with others who support them,” explained George Sanchez, one of the parish’s youth ministry leaders. “It is just a space we are creating for anyone who wants to come and pray for their loved ones and to incite hope.”

The parish youth publicized the prayer vigil on Instagram and various other social media platforms “so that it would get to the people who need it most at this time,” said Judith Montalvan, another of St. Joseph Parish’s youth leaders.

The Blessed Mother has been at the heart of prayer efforts initiated at several schools in the Miami Archdiocese.

“I think everyone understands that in pain, you turn to your mother,” said Wency Ortega, who helped organize a virtual online rosary on June 27 for students, teachers, families and alumni of Christopher Columbus High School in Miami. “And in turning to our Mother, we turn to Jesus.”

About 2,000 people tapped into Columbus’ virtual rosary, coordinated by a group of instructors and alumni. Taking part through YouTube, LinkedIn and Facebook Live, they were knitted together via the StreamYard platform.

On June 28, Belen Jesuit Preparatory School in Miami drew 300 people to a “Prayer for Surfside” gathering. Seated in the campus’ Roca Theater, they also heard words of encouragement from Jesuit Father Guillermo Garcia-Tuñon, the school’s president.

“As Catholics, we place so much of our hope and fears, our sadness and anger in the hands of the Mother of Jesus,” Father Garcia-Tuñon said. “She experienced his joy and his sadness. She experienced his fear, anger and sorrow. She experienced his death. It is only natural that in times of such sorrow and pain that we run to our Mother for help.”

Our Lady of Lourdes Academy in Miami announced a rosary for July 1, the one-week anniversary of the building collapse. The event, on Instagram Live, was geared especially for families who were still awaiting news of their loved ones.

Father Juan Rumín Domínguez, parochial vicar at St. Joseph Parish, helped lead the prayers at the June 26 vigil.

“We want to say to our community that Christ is our light, the light of hope in the middle of this difficult situation,” the priest said. “We will pray for the victims and their families and especially we want to transmit our faith and hope in this situation; it is the thing we have to do as Catholics.

“The rescue workers are working there but this is our language: prayer, and we are praying for them,” Father Dominguez added.

Prayer is indeed a language we, as Catholics, are called to partake in each day. It is an integral fabric of who we are, as necessary as the air we breathe, and the food and drink we consume.

May we continue to hold those affected by the Surfside tragedy in our daily petitions, praying that God give them the strength, courage and faith to face this ongoing trial, knowing that as our brothers and sisters, they are not alone.

—Mike Krokos

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