Canarsie Parish Sets Its Sights on Bright Future

by Marie Elena Giossi

Floodwaters have receded and electricity has been restored, but the post-Sandy rebuilding efforts have just begun for residents in Canarsie.

Having been designated as a Zone B evacuation area with only a moderate flood risk, Canarsie residents weren’t expecting the seven- and eight-foot high floodwaters that Sandy brought ashore late last month. Many residents sustained costly damages and lost irreplaceable items in the basements and first floors of their homes.

As a sign of solidarity, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio visited the parish family and celebrated the 12:45 p.m. Mass on Sunday, Nov. 25. Following Mass, the bishop met with several parishioners in the rectory and listened to how they were affected by the storm.

Bishop DiMarzio says hello to Marvyn Chin, of Holy Family parish, Canarsie, on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. The Chin family was hard hit by Hurricane Sandy

He was originally slated to visit the parish on the weekend following Hurricane Sandy but rescheduled so that he could celebrate Mass with harder hit residents in Breezy Point.

As parishioners were dispersing following the 11:15 a.m. Mass, the bishop arrived and had the chance to meet Philbert Sicard, president of Midocean Air, LLC, who donated three furnaces and a boiler to the neediest parish families.

A parishioner for 21 years, Sicard called the church after the hurricane to find out how the parish property and individual parishioners fared. Fearing that some businesses may take advantage of the situation, he donated his services to some families and offered more than fair rates to others.

“I’ve already installed at least 20 boilers and furnaces in Canarsie,” he said.

When he visited the Seaview Ave. home of an octogenarian couple whose basement and belongings were ruined, he said he had tears in his eyes. He put his other projects on hold to help them first.

But there were no tears on Sunday morning as families streamed into church, where they joyfully sang, prayed and shared the Eucharist.

Concelebrating the liturgy were Father John Amann, pastor; Fathers Edward R. P. Kane and Jean Augustin Francois, parochial vicars; and Father Caleb Buchanan, representing the Vicariate of Black Catholic Concerns, and neighboring parish of St. Laurence, East New York, where he serves as administrator.

In his homily, Bishop DiMarzio shared the story of a bipolar king whose mood swings prompted him to seek a magic charm to achieve a balanced state. A sage man had a solution for the king’s wavering emotions – a ring with the inscription: This too shall pass.

Just as the inscription on the ring reminded the king, the bishop reminded the congregation that the suffering and distress caused by Hurricane Sandy around the diocese, including Canarsie, will eventually pass.

“We have to set our sights to the future, not look to the past,” he said. “There’s so much more to God’s Kingdom than the present moment.”

Before the final blessing, Father Amann shared how proud he was of the parish family, of the many instances of “people helping people.”

FEMA representatives Katie Grasty and Willie Nunn.

At the invitation of Father Amann during a town hall meeting at the parish in early November, FEMA set up a Disaster Recovery Center in the school auditorium. Since Nov. 8, the center has been open daily, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

According to Grasty, FEMA has processed 43,144 individual assistance applications in Brooklyn as of Nov. 24. Brooklynites have been awarded $139,140,554 in individual assistance grants thus far.

At the FEMA Center based at Holy Family School, a total of 1,159 applications were processed from Nov. 8 through Nov. 22. FEMA will stay on-site to address the community’s needs for the foreseeable future.

Also on hand are representatives from the American Red Cross, the U.S. Small Business Association (SBA) and the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

“We’re here to help,” Nunn told the congregation. “This isn’t going to be done overnight but as the bishop said, ‘This too shall pass.’”

Following Mass, the bishop took time to speak with the Chin family, one of countless parish families affected by the storm.

Flooding destroyed the appliances, furniture, walls and carpeting in the family’s basement apartment, where Mervyn and Betty Chin, resided. Until a complete renovation can be completed, the couple has temporarily moved upstairs to live with their son, Cedric, studio director for NET, the diocesan cable television station, and daughter-in-law Johanna. 

“The bishop’s presence here today is important to the parish,” Cedric shared after Mass. “It shows his concern for the people.

“Like the bishop said, ‘This too shall pass,’ but it’s also bringing us together,” he added, looking around at his fellow parishioners. “FEMA is here. People were together for Thanksgiving. People are coming together.”