Diocesan News

Bishop Brennan Praises FDNY, Expresses Gratitude No Casualties In Easter Mass Blaze

The massive fire caused the Easter Sunday Mass to come to a halt.

BUSHWICK — A five-alarm fire tore through the back of Our Lady of the Rosary of Pompeii Church during Mass on Easter Sunday, March 31, leaving five people, including three firefighters, injured, and the rectory and parish center destroyed. 

FDNY officials said the fire was spotted around 1:48 p.m., and black smoke engulfed the church as parishioners quickly evacuated. More than 200 firefighters responded to the scene, and charred remnants of the rear of the church building, including its roof, were scattered across Seigel Street the following morning. 

“I said, ‘Oh my God,’ my church is burning. It was horrible seeing it,” said parishioner Vincent Valcasen, who saw the fire when he was walking in the neighborhood.

Around 150 parishioners were in prayer during the 1 p.m. Spanish-language Mass, recalled Mariluz Cruz, secretary at the church for over a decade. She had just completed the first reading and was listening to the psalm when she saw smoke coming from the rectory doors.

Sprinting into the back, she saw the fire and billowing smoke, and the intense heat burned and blistered her hand when she touched the door. On April 1, she said she still was in shock and had yet to fully remember and process what happened.

“I’m here every day, and nothing was out of the ordinary. We did the same things we always do. Just the fact that it was Easter, and our last service of the day, everyone was happy, and all of a sudden that happened — it’s hard to comprehend,” Cruz said.

The main sanctuary of the church remained unscathed after the fire, with only smoke damage and water damage from the FDNY response. That this part of the church remaining unharmed was moving for Cruz, who believed it was more than just luck.

“Just the fact that the church is intact, it means a lot to me. It means that God was there for us,” she said.

The morning after the fire, FDNY investigators were still digging through the rubble and searching through the church, attempting to determine what caused the blaze. Alongside them was Bishop Robert Brennan, who came to the church to speak to its leadership, survey the damage, and show support to the parish community.

“Thank God that people are by and large safe. That the injuries, we were told, were relatively minor, thank God for that. Thank God for the fine people in our fire departments,” Bishop Brennan said. “We’ll take stock of things. But for now, we just feel a tremendous sadness — sadness and gratitude.”

The pastor of the All Saints-Our Lady of the Rosary of Pompeii Parish, Father Vincenzo Cardilicchia, was not at the church when the fire erupted. He was on a retreat with the Neocatechumenal Way, but when he saw a text from a parishioner that there was a fire at his church, he booked a flight for the next day.

Firefighters asses the damage at Our Lady of the Rosary of Pompeii Church in Bushwick, after a five-alarm fire tore through the church during Easter Mass on Sunday, March. 31.

In his place, Father Romulo Marin, the parochial vicar at All Saints-Our Lady of the Rosary of Pompeii, was celebrating Mass on Sunday. He followed after Cruz, opening the door of the back room and seeing it engulfed in flames. 

He told The Tablet that “when I opened the door, everything was all black.” Father Marin was also injured, when a piece of fluorescent light that melted from the heat landed on his hand. He noted that he got out just in time.

“I took the fire extinguisher and tried to turn the fire away, but the fire was too strong. I burnt my hand a little bit, and when I attempted to get out, the roof fell down,” Father Marin recalled.

Our Lady of the Rosary of Pompeii Church will remain closed indefinitely. However, two Masses — one at 10:30 in English and one at 1 p.m. in Spanish — will be celebrated Sunday, April 7, in the other church in the parish, All Saints, at 115 Throop Ave., said Massiel Walle, assistant secretary at All Saints.

According to Father Cardilicchia, a GoFundMe campaign that was started after the fire is not affiliated with the church.