In front of a crowd of about 70 parishioners, Father Juan Sosa listed the names of members of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church who were reported by friends and family as missing in the Champlain Towers South Condo that collapsed on Thursday, leaving five dead and 156 unaccounted for.
One missing child, 11-year-old Lucia Guara, received her first communion at the church, he said.
Her father Marcus, 52, mother Ana, 41, and sister Emma, 4, are all missing.
The priest left a binder of paper for others to leave names of missing friends or family they would like to report so the parishioners can pray for them.
The feeling in the church, just two blocks from where rescuers continued to dig through rubble, was solemn, with people filtering in and out for the 8:30 and 10 a.m. Masses.
“We will pray for them,” Sosa said. “And for anyone else you may know.”
Radames Ocasio, 69, clasped his hands and bent his head in prayer in the back of the church. He was one of the last people to leave the tear-filled Sunday morning mass.
Thoughts of September 11, 2001, went through his head. As a first responder, he still has vivid memories of the smells, the feelings, the photos of the missing papering nearby fences.
“It brought me right back,” said Ocasio, who was a 21-year New York City Fire Department veteran when he was deployed to recover bodies from the World Trader Center. “It brought back some really, really hard memories.”
He retired shortly after and moved to Florida, saying he just saw “too much death.” He hopes the first responders who are part of the search and rescue team in Surfside get therapy for the trauma they have still yet to face.
“There’s nothing that is going to prepare them for the body parts, the odors,” he said. “They have no idea what they are going to come back to.”
Yolanda Garay, 60, has kept parishioners safe from COVID-19 for over a year as the church’s sanitation coordinator.
But today, she mourns lives lost in the collapse of the Champlain Towers South Condo, just three blocks from the church.
“I know many people who come here who are lost,” said Garay, who has held the doors open to parishioners and welcomed them inside the small church. “We are praying for all the people, dead or still alive. It’s very sad for our community.”