‘It is simply our duty to love one another and protect our fellow man’
HOWARD BEACH — There was only one place Army veteran Dominick Liello wanted to be on the night of Sept. 2 — at a candlelight prayer service at St. Helen’s Church to honor the 13 U.S. military service members killed a week earlier in a suicide bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan.
“I feel very close to those people who perished. They died for our country, and anything that happens to them happens to me,” said Dominick, describing the solidarity veterans feel with today’s men and women in the military.
The deadly attack at Hamid Karzai International Airport killed the service members and 170 civilians on Aug. 26. The terror group ISIS-K claimed responsibility for the bombing.
Father Francis Colamaria, pastor of St. Helen’s, said he organized the service to give his parishioners a healthy way to express their emotions; he noted that the lethal attack had made members in the congregation angry.
“I think a lot of people are frustrated. A lot of them are yelling at their television sets. They’re yelling online. I don’t think that’s the appropriate response. I think the response is prayer,” he said. “I think having a vigil is a way for people to express not just their anger, but their emotions towards God. If you look through the Psalms, if you look through Scripture, you’ll see these moments in King David’s life in the way it expresses upset and all kinds of things.”
The tone of the service was deeply patriotic. It began with the singing of the “Star-Spangled Banner” and included a rendition of “God Bless America.”
The centerpiece of the evening was a procession in which 13 parishioners holding candles walked up the center aisle one-by-one, each placing a candle on a table set up in front of the altar.
The names of each service member were announced — Marine Lance Cpl. David Lee Espinosa, Marine Sgt. Nicole L. Gee, Marine Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoul, Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Knauss, Marine Cpl. Humberto Sanchez, Marine Cpl. Hunter Lopez, Navy Corpsman Maxton W. Soviak, Marine Lance Cpl. Dylan Merola, Marine Sgt. Johnny Rosario Pichardo, Marine Cpl. Daegan Page, Marine Staff Sgt. Darin T. Hoover, Marine Cpl. Rylee McCollum and Marine Lance Cpl. Jared Schmitz.
The church bell chimed once for each of the fallen.
William Vallely, a Marine veteran and a lector at St. Helen’s Church, offered a reflection to help the congregation understand the sense of unity and purpose felt by those in uniform.
The military is a true melting pot composed of people of all walks of life, he said. “As a man of faith, this is a true testament to God’s power. It is simply our duty to love one another and protect our fellow man,” he said.
Following the service, Father Colamaria led parishioners across the street to St. Helen’s Catholic Academy, where they observed Vallely raise the flag outside the school to full staff.
On the way out of the church, parishioners were given yellow ribbons by members of the Howard Beach Moms group to help remember those killed in the attack.
Robert Heedles felt compelled to come to church that night. “We’re very patriotic, my family. We’re devastated by what happened to our service members overseas. We should never forget our men and women in the service who protect us day and night,” he said.
The ceremony brought together parishioners of all ages — from senior citizens to schoolchildren.
Gia Maffucci, a third grader at P.S. 207, said she was glad she attended the ceremony. “It was really good. Everything looked so beautiful,” she said.