|Broad Channel, Queens, NY|
Having spent the last week in hurricane recovery mode, my head is a bit of a mush right now, but I wanted to reflect on some of the events that showed the community and the Church in the devastated area at its best.
The section I'm most familiar with in the areas affected by Hurricane Sandy is Broad Channel, Queens; a solidly middle class neighborhood of former Summer bungalows in Jamaica Bay lying between Rockaway Beach and Howard Beach. It is literally smack in the middle of the water. Every neighborhood has its distinguishing features and Broad Channel's is that of a close knit, caring place. A predominantly Catholic town, it is home to many firefighters, police and sanitation department workers and their families. The parish of St. Virgilius is at the heart of the town. Our prayer group, which has been meeting at the church every Monday night for the past 18 years, has been blessed by the devotion of its members, especially the senior citizens who have been through thick and thin together. The deep faith of this community has produced many vocations over the years to the priesthood and religious life in the Brooklyn diocese; a number that is out of proportion to the size of the parish.
In recent years, the parish of St. Virgilius had been combined with another parish in Rockaway, St. Camillus, which also was devastated by Hurricane Sandy. The pastor of the joint parishes, Fr. Richard Ahlemeyer is a local who grew up in the area and understands the ravages of the weather, but even for him this was a tough one. He and another priest stayed holed up in the rectory throughout the storm and the surge, losing their cars and all of their belongings, but still able to be on site as the sun rose to help parishioners and others. Last Saturday, we came upon Father Richard walking the streets of Broad Channel offering solace, sharing news and providing information on emergency assistance. He told us that the Church would be open on Sunday and he would be saying the 10 a.m. Mass.
On Sunday, my friend Jo-Ann and I joined other residents who packed the church for Mass. The church smelled of oil fumes and wet wood. The pews were all buckled and the carpeting had been stripped out by local firemen who came by to help. Jo-Ann's home had been severely damaged by the hurricane and storm surge, as had all the homes of every single parishioner. Everyone had a story. Everyone needed a hug. In this community where people are always ready to get together to help one another out, they were all in the same boat. Everyone needed help this time.
Father held a mini-town hall meeting before Mass, giving out his cell phone number, providing information on relief assistance, and letting everyone know that, in spite of the damage to the church building, weekday Mass would be starting up again on Monday morning. What a blessing for everyone and what a comfort. It was so moving to see the church be the hub where people congregated, where they went for reassurance, and where they found the sustenance needed to face the daunting challenges that lie ahead.
I'll try to post some more as these times allow. There's so much to be done, so much work, so much cleaning, so much repairing. But, God is good. Neighbors are helping neighbors. Food is being brought in by different churches. The Mormon young people are helping to clean up. The local Sikh temple was on the scene right from the first day bringing hot meals. The goodness of people is enormous and so heartening.
Here are a few pictures from the past week to give some perspective on the situation:
|The Rockaway Boardwalk destroyed and washed up onshore|
|Boat washed up onshore in Broad Channel|
|Fr. Richard Ahlemeyer celebrating Mass at St. Virgilius Church, Broad Channel in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.|
|Interior St. Virgilius|
|St. Virgilius Church, Broad Channel, Queens, NY|
|A Big Thank You to Sanitation Workers|