After Hard Rock collapse, church offered comfort

By Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond, Clarion Herald Commentary

What are your thoughts about the tragic collapse of the Hard Rock Hotel that was under construction on Canal Street?

The destruction itself is tragic, but the fact that it robbed the lives of three people and hurt so many other workers is the real tragedy. This is not a time for us as outside observers to assess what went wrong with the building. The experts will determine that. We simply pray for the victims and their families and ask God to console them in their grief.

What was the Catholic church’s response after the collapse last Saturday?

I heard from all the city officials – the mayor, City Council officials, the police chief, the fire chief, the emergency medical service responders – that they were so grateful to Catholic Charities for what they did after the collapse and how they walked with the families of the victims in the days that followed. We walk with people in times of tragedy and grief. So much of what Catholic Charities does is behind the scenes that it sometimes is not recognized for its ministry – not that we ever do ministry to get credit for it. We are servant leaders. The theme of Catholic Charities is that we go whenever there is a need, wherever there is a tragedy, and we stay until the very end. That’s what we have done. I’m very humbled and also very proud of Catholic Charities and its great ministry.

Mayor Cantrell asked you to participate in a prayer service from the rooftop of the Krauss apartments for the victims’ families.

Yes. It was a memorial service for Anthony Magrette, Jose Ponce Arreolaone and Quinnyon Wimberly. I was struck by the vantage point. From the top of the sixth floor at Krauss, we could look over the top of the Saenger Theatre and see in the next block the concrete floors of the hotel that had pancaked and caused the death and destruction. You could see everything right there. We prayed, and there was music to praise God and to ask God for comfort. I had the privilege to read a passage of Scripture from the Third Chapter of the Book of Wisdom: “The souls of the just are in the hands of God, and no torment shall touch them.” I also did a closing prayer. I was able to bless a medal of St. Florian, who is the patron saint of firefighters, which Dr. Jennifer Avegno, the director of the city’s Department of Health, asked me to give to Chief Tim McConnell of the New Orleans Fire Department. Chief McConnell did a marvelous job running the rescue and recovery operation under tremendous emotional stress.

How were the families?

Broken, frightened, hurt. Many of them also expressed to me their great faith and told me they were certainly feeling God’s comfort and protection. I also was able to attend the wake services on the West Bank for Anthony Magrette, whose body was recovered from the rubble. I offered my condolences to his wife and family on behalf  of the people of God in the archdiocese. Let’s continue to raise up the deceased and their families to the God of comfort.

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