BRONX — Susan Watts sat towards the back of St. Simon Stock Catholic Church on Monday night with a heavy heart thinking of the eight children she knew that were affected by Sunday’s tragic building fire, including one who died — “I came here to pray for them and for everybody that was affected.”
Watts, the assistant director of religious education at St. Simon Stock, knew the kids from her other job with the Police Athletic League (PAL) after-school program. She was joined by about 60 other parishioners at the parish for a Mass for those affected by the blaze at 333 East 181st Street.
Except for Watts, those in attendance didn’t know most of the building’s residents, and some knew none at all. The majority of the tenants are Muslims from the West African nation of Gambia. Nonetheless, the common sentiment among St. Simon Stock parishioners was that regardless of their different religious beliefs, it was important to support members of their community.
“The people that were affected need to know that everyone is together for them,” parishioner Carlos Torres said. “People always need prayer, so for us, it’s important because they’re members of our community. Religion is not important because we are all family.”
Another parishioner, Ramon Valero, vowed that the community is going to “help those that are alive as much as we can, and pray for those who died.”
Monday’s 7 p.m. Mass was celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Peter Byrne, the Archdiocese of New York’s Vicar for the Bronx, alongside St. Simon Stock-St. Joseph Pastor Michael Kissane.
In his homily, Father Kissane spoke of three words that came to his mind when he and Father Paul Richmond visited the fire scene late Sunday afternoon. The first was time, as in the timing of the tragedy, and those who were affected, is the hardest thing to understand.
The second word was faith, which Father Kissane said is most important.
“St. Paul speaks of times where we must walk by faith because we cannot walk by sight, and this is one of those times,” he said. “There is no way for us to see and think our way through an hour such as we now face, and there is no way for us to not pray to God for all those who are seriously injured, and all those who lost everything, and that is why we gather this evening.”
Father Kissane later noted that prayer is the one thing everyone can do in a situation like this, adding, “We pray that God will help them in this very painful moment,” and “that God will take all of the deceased into the palm of His hand.”
The final word was gratitude. Father Kissane admitted the word seems a bit out of place given the situation, but he encouraged the parishioners to give thanks to the “extraordinary” work of the first responders and all of the men and women who risked their lives “to help people they did not know.”
Bishop Byrne said afterward he attended the Mass to show solidarity as the vicar for the Bronx and was proud of the way the parishioners came out to support members of their community.
“I was really impressed by the turnout,” Bishop Byrne said. “Those affected, they may not have been members of our community of faith but they are a part of the human family.”