Father Juan Sosa is pastor of St. Joseph Church, Miami Beach, the Catholic parish closest to the partially collapsed Champlain Towers South in Surfside. Since the collapse June 24, he has given dozens of interviews to the news media and visited the center where families await word on their loved ones. He wrote this June 29 because, he explained, “Writing usually helps me out and releases my thoughts and feelings.”
For this ‘experience’ there is no specific training in the seminary. Lives that are lost by sickness or individual accident, or even violence, present us with a different challenge. In those cases, the priest offers the sacraments of penance and anointing to those in need because he knows that it is Christ and the community of the Church who is present through him and who comforts and brings healing to broken hearts — and, sometimes, decaying bodies.
However, how do you deal with a group of the faithful who reside at a building that collapses unexpectedly in the middle of the night? The answer emerges out of the very tragedy that ultimately touches everyone who hears of it and watches the rubble: You must be present and available, hopeful that God will restore what is broken and will bring peace to those who wait for news of their relatives and friends.
At some moment, especially at night, you long with hope to hear the voices of those who are trapped: the married couples who attend Mass and are supportive of parish projects, the children who received first Communion from your hand, the couples who exchanged their wedding vows before you, the elderly who find comfort in a companion who assists them. Will we hear those voices again? Will they join our parishioners at worship to hear God’s Word and partake of the sacrament of life, the Eucharist?
Above all, you must lift them all in prayer with the entire community and be grateful for signs of new life in the midst of anguish and emotional pain: the arduous and ongoing labor of first responders; the persistent willingness of people to share what they can with those who lost their home; the comfort of counselors and chaplains; the commitment of the youth to become ambassadors of good news in the midst of bad news; and, above all, the pushing aside of political ideologies that frequently become an obstacle to healthy dialogue to witness the bonding of civic leaders in opposite parties.
Let us rejoice and be hopeful! Every pastor, and every believer, every Christian, every Catholic, must see God at work beyond such a tragic dilemma. In the words of St. Teresa of Avila, in those difficult times you see Christ’s hands and feet in others, Christ’s voice and Christ’s heart in action through the love that many around you share with those in pain … an enlightening experience that you frequently miss in your daily routine … a pastoral experience not found in the seminary curriculum but certainly sown into the heart of future priests through their calling to this unique ministry that demands a daily look at the Cross through which Christ continues to transform human pain into vicarious sacrifice.