‘Everybody is coming together’: Miami archbishop lauds response to building collapse

Oct. 19, 2012: Archbishop Thomas Wenski speaks to the media after a press conference / Ana Rodriguez-Soto/Florida Catholic

Washington D.C., Jun 29, 2021 / 09:01 am (CNA).

The Miami community has rallied to respond to the deadly collapse of a condominium building, the archbishop of Miami told CNA on Monday.

“Everybody is coming together and cooperating, in a very difficult time,” Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami told CNA several days after part of a beachfront condominium building in Surfside, Florida collapsed last Thursday, June 24.

“This is an example that God can bring good out of something that’s very evil, very difficult,” he said.

Early morning on June 24, part of the 12-story Champlain Towers condominium complex collapsed; of the 136 condo units in the building, more than 70 were reported destroyed or damaged. Since then, 11 people have been confirmed dead, and 150 people remain unaccounted for.

“I can see the building from my residence,” Archbishop Wenski told CNA, emphasizing his proximity to the scene. “I can see the good side of the building, the side that did not collapse.”

“It does show you that we know not the day nor the hour,” he added.

One teenage Catholic school student was rescued from the rubble on Thursday morning, he noted – identified as 15-year-old Jonah Handler of Monsignor Edward Pace High School in Miami Gardens, Local10 News reported. Handler’s mother, also pulled from the wreckage of the building, died on her way to hospital.

Search and rescue teams have encountered difficulties in removing the massive amount of rubble on the site, including having to fight a fire.

“There’s a lot we don’t know yet, and certainly, this is not going to be over in a day or two,” Archbishop Wenski said, as search and rescue efforts continued for the fifth day since the collapse.

“And the survivors will need accompaniment,” he added, “for months and years to come.”

The condominium complex – and the surrounding area north of Miami – is home to people of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds.

“There were people who were from Latin America, visiting there. Jewish people, Catholic people, young, old, children, retirees. Spanish-speaking, English-speaking,” he said.

“We had parishioners from St. Joseph’s, parishioners from other parishes there,” he said, “so it touched an amazing amount of people throughout this community and throughout the world.”

The pastor at nearby St. Joseph’s parish, just several blocks from the complex, told CNA on Friday that nine parish families remained unaccounted for in the collapse. At St. Patrick’s parish in neighboring Miami Beach, parishioner Manny LaFont was confirmed dead on Saturday from the building collapse.

The community, Archbishop Wenski said, has united in its response to the disaster, including federal, state, and local public officials of different political parties.

“They’re working together, they’re working as a team, and during this time of disaster, there doesn’t seem to be the sharp partisan divisions or differences that were in evidence before the disaster,” he said.

Catholic Charities of the Miami archdiocese is offering counseling to families affected by the disaster, he said, and the local Catholic Health Services is on site. Catholic cemeteries are responding to inquiries from family members of those unaccounted for in the collapse, he noted.

Belen Jesuit Preparatory School in Miami held a rosary vigil on Monday evening; the school reported nearly a dozen members of its community – one alumnus and 10 family members of staff and alumni – among those unaccounted for in the building collapse.

St. Joseph’s parish in Surfside held a prayer vigil on Saturday night, attended by the mayor of Surfside.

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