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A pastor's dilemma: the collapse of a building

Father Juan Sosa says believers must see God at work behind the tragedy

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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.

Father Juan Sosa, pastor of St. Joseph Church, Miami Beach, the church nearest to the partially-collapsed condo building in Surfside, speaks with the media June 25, 2021.

Photographer: TOM TRACY | FC

Father Juan Sosa, pastor of St. Joseph Church, Miami Beach, the church nearest to the partially-collapsed condo building in Surfside, speaks with the media June 25, 2021.

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.

Comments from readers

Pat Solenski - 07/01/2021 10:06 AM
Thank you Father for your words of wisdom in this time.
Deacon Tom Hanlon - 07/01/2021 09:55 AM
Thank you Father Sosa for your words which help me in my ministry as a Police Chaplain for MDPD. I have been there since Thursday with families and friends of those who lived in the building. They all need prayer to help them through the anguish of not knowing and their hope that their relatives will be found alive. Yesterday the survivors took a tour of the collapsed building. They spoke of how they escaped and are thankful but they have lost all their possessions including pictures of family members. Your training when I was studying for the Deaconate 26 years ago helped me deal with this crisis.
Danoushka Capponi - 06/30/2021 11:05 PM
Proud of you Father and proud of my parish. You always find the right words. Thank you for your constant support.
Bernardo R Garcia-Granda, M.D. - 06/30/2021 05:05 PM
If you are like me, I watch the news on TV every night. Many times I tell my wife that I am going to stop watching because there is too much violence and death portrayed. Usually those images are of destruction and suffering in far away places, so we conclude that it could not happen to us. This time it did happen in our own back yard, and we were not prepared for what was to come. After the initial shock, we are now starting to slowly process what has happened. We can only conclude that we need to be more kind to our fellow human beings and learn to live in peace and harmony with each other, as we never know when tragedy can hit anyone of us. Fr. Sosa has a very difficult job ahead dealing with his parishioners and needs all of our prayers. Let us join in asking for God’s mercy for the victims, survivors, and families. Let us not forget to pray for the first responders and all involved in this terrible tragedy.
Teresa Fernandez Soneira - 06/30/2021 02:41 PM
Gracias, Padre Sosa, por sus palabras tan reconfortantes en estos momentos tan difíciles para todos. Que Dios ponga su mano y nos ayude a aceptar su voluntad.
HECTOR GONZALEZ - 06/30/2021 02:15 PM
Gracias Padre Sosa por tan bellas palabras ante una realidad tan tragica e inhumana. Cuantas vidas han sido tronchadas en cuestion de segundos. Vivimos en un mundo violento a veces. La tristeza creada por la pandemia del Covid ha agitado la mente de muchas gentes a cometer actos horrendos e inexplicables. Pero aqui nos hallamos ante las leyes de la Fisica y de la Gravedad que son a veces anti-humanas y capaces de extrujar imperturbablemnte tantos seres maravillosos que esa noche dormian sonando un cielo de estrellas y un mar de infinitud. Los llevamos en el corazon y sabemos que Dios los ha acogido en su Inmenso Corazon.
Valli Leone - 06/30/2021 01:39 PM
It is such a blessing to have seen Father Juan Sosa on CNN today with his report on the presence of the Body of Christ alive at Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church in Surfside. As young parents over 50 years ago, my husband and I attended Saint Joseph’s every week. Thank you, Holy Spirit, that you who began the great work there and everywhere are faithful to complete it. Jesus never fails; and as One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, I rejoice heartily, knowing that many lives are being saved and transformed even through this tragedy. We now reside in Key Largo and attend Saint Justin the Martyr Catholic Church. Wherever we go, Jesus’ presence in the Word, the Eucharist and in the fellowship of His people changes everything! We will not stop praying for the victims of the Condo collapse, all the while praising God, our Healer and Deliverer forever. ✝️⚓️💜