Wednesday, June 30, 2021
Jim Davis - Florida Catholic
MIAMI | Faced with a towering tragedy – the sudden collapse of a multi-story building with people trapped inside – many Catholics around South Florida have fled to a common refuge: the comforting presence of their Mother.
So it was that several schools in the archdiocese reacted to the June 24 fall of the Champlain Towers South condo in Surfside by praying the rosary. Reflecting on its glorious, joyful, sorrowful and luminous mysteries, they called on Mary for aid and comfort.
“I think everyone understands that in pain, you turn to your mother,” said Wency Ortega, who helped organize a virtual online rosary on Sunday, June 27, for students, teachers, families and alumni of Christopher Columbus High School. “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 of the Marist school in Miami. Taking part through YouTube, LinkedIn and Facebook Live, they were knit together via the StreamYard platform. Individuals submitted their own intentions in chat boxes. They prayed also for members of a half-dozen families in the school’s “greater family” who were still missing Sunday night.
Other schools have held or planned their own rosaries also. On Monday, June 28, Belen Jesuit Preparatory School in Miami drew 300 people to the Prayer for Surfside. Seated in the campus’ Roca Theater, they also heard words of encouragement from Jesuit Father Guillermo Garcia-Tuñon, school president.
Father Garcia-Tuñon first prayed for 11 victims of the building collapse, as well as the 150 who were still missing as of Monday night. Standing next to a statue of Our Lady of Belen, he also explained why the rosary was the chosen vehicle for such prayers.
“As Catholics, we place so much of our hope and fears, our sadness and anger in the hands of the mother of Jesus,” he 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 announced a rosary for July 1, the one-week anniversary of the building collapse. The event, on Instagram Live, was planned especially for five families who were still awaiting news of their loved ones – uncles, aunts, cousins, grandmothers and others – 10 individuals in all.
“Each decade [of the rosary] will be for one of the families,” said Lourdes Academy spokesperson Olga Martinez. She said that different representatives from the community would represent the families during the prayers.
Faculty and staff have been collecting donations for the affected families at Lourdes, Martinez said. She added that Sister Carmen Fernandez, the school’s president, has offered support to them as well.
The experience of community has been a vital part of the group prayer, according to Thomas Kruczek, president of Columbus High School, who gave a welcome address Sunday night.
“It felt good as a Catholic family to do the rosary,” he said. “All of us felt helpless as we saw the videos, and read the newspaper. [But] prayer is something we do. This is a way of serving the community.”
Ironically, the speedy birth of the Columbus High School rosary was a byproduct of the COVID pandemic. Fifteen months ago, a 1988 alumnus, cardiologist Glenn Barquet, took ill with the virus, then died. His 1988 classmates began nightly prayer meetings on Zoom, at first just among themselves, then including friends – a virtual congregation that grew to 150.
Some even began logging in from sites as diverse as Austin, Washington, D.C., Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. “Afterward, we'd stay on for three or four hours, reconnecting with people we hadn't spoken to in many years,” Ortega said.
After Dr. Barquet died, his wife and children asked the class of 1988 to continue the nightly rosaries, according to Ortega. “They said the rosary helped them, comforted them, gave them strength to go through the mourning process.”
Each night, one of the 1988 alumni leads the prayers, with 15 to 25 regular attendees, Ortega said.