by Ed Wilkinson
Rockaway Beach residents battered by Hurricane Sandy came to St. Rose of Lima Church on Thanksgiving Day for one reason: to give thanks for the blessings they have.
Recognizing the trials of the previous two weeks, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio made his fourth trip to the Rockaway peninsula since the devastating storm to celebrate the 9 a.m. Thanksgiving Day Mass in the beachfront church that still did not have electricity or heat.
“We come here today to count our blessings in spite of the current tragedy,” said Bishop DiMarzio.
“There have been many negative thoughts about all the things that have happened. The fact that you have come here this morning means you want to give thanks to God. The unexpected changes to life here on the peninsula will pass away.”
Bishop DiMarzio explained that thanks can be given for the minimal loss of life, the fact that the church is still usable, that a recovery is taking place and for the volunteers who have come to help.
“We pray that the Lord will show us the ways out of this dark hour to the light that He offers,” concluded the bishop.
The bishop read from the missal with the aid of a flashlight held by his master of ceremonies, Deacon Jaime Varela. Lectors were assisted by a single floodlight lit by a makeshift generator. Members of the congregation kept warm by wearing their coats throughout the liturgy as a dampness permeated throughout the church.
But nothing dulled the responses and the prayers as parishioners were enjoying the presence of their music director, Grace Matubis, for the first time since the rains came. A resident of Jamaica Estates, she had been unable to get to the church. She played on a piano since the organ required electricity.
“My heart aches when I see the boardwalk and the rooftop of the church,” said Matubis. “It’s very emotional for me to come and not be able to play the organ. But, thank God, we are alive!”
Before the final dismissal, Msgr. James Spengler, pastor, led the congregation a capello in a song of thanksgiving. In thanking the bishop for his presence and concern, Msgr. Spengler said, “He’s here so often, he’s like one of us. He’ll be one of the first to walk on the new boardwalk when it is finished.”
Parishioners thanked Bishop DiMarzio for being there as he greeted them on the sidewalk outside church after Mass.
“It’s good to see the leaders of the church around, making people feel at peace,” said Heather Killian, a parishioner who teaches at St. Francis Catholic Academy, Flatbush. “They give the people the faith they need to get through this time.”
Her uncle, Bob Killian, added, “I’m glad the bishop came. We needed someone to bring us together.
“Everyone should know that St. Rose is coming back,” said Maria Bobe, who works as an aide at the parish school which had reopened earlier in the week. “We’re grateful and thankful. I’ve never seen so many kids feel so good to be back at school. It was devastating here. But everyone was there for one another.”
As she left the church, one woman said this holiday would be like none other. No turkey dinner was planned. “We’re heading to Brooklyn to find a Chinese restaurant,” she said.