Brooklyn parishioners unite with sister church a week after Easter inferno

Bishop Robert J. Brennan of Brooklyn, N.Y., addresses the congregation during Divine Mercy Sunday Mass at All Saints Church in the East Williamsburg section of Brooklyn April 7, 2024. Also pictured are Father Romulo Marin, left, associate pastor, and Father Vincenzo Cardilicchia, pastor of All Saints-Our Lady of the Rosary of Pompeii Parish. (OSV News photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, The Tablet)

BROOKLYN, N.Y. (OSV News) — Parishioners of Our Lady of the Rosary of Pompeii in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood went back to church April 7, one week after billowing black smoke and fierce flames interrupted Easter Mass and displaced congregants indefinitely.

Still, they had a familiar place nearby to worship — their sister congregation, All Saints Church, in East Williamsburg. The two parishes officially merged in June 2019 under the leadership of the current pastor, Father Vincenzo Cardilicchia.

After Sunday Mass April 7 — with Brooklyn Bishop Robert J. Brennan as the main celebrant and the pastor as concelebrant — Father Cardilicchia confirmed the severely damaged sacristy, parish center and rectory must be demolished. It was unclear if the church could be used again. Our Lady of the Rosary of Pompeii routinely held a 10:30 a.m. Sunday Mass, which has been relocated to All Saints for now.

A major worry is the church records — including records of sacraments — that were stored in the rectory.

Father Cardilicchia said he is very concerned about the fate of the parish records that go back to 1902. The search for them will resume when it’s safe to reenter the building. Meanwhile, the chalices have been recovered. Some were easily cleaned, he said, but others needed repairs.

After the Mass, parishioner Lisa Torres said the congregants were sad that they can’t reenter their “safe place” any time soon.

She noted the church has always been a magnet drawing teens and young adults who might otherwise have been lured into street crime.

The main sanctuary had only smoke and water damage, and no one died in the five-alarm fire.

“We’re 100% grateful that part of the church was spared,” she told The Tablet, Brooklyn’s diocesan news outlet. “We take that as a sign from God.”

Torres said the parish is responding to the calamity with faith and hope.

“We have a place to worship that is not far from us,” she said. “And we have the same priests. We’re good.”

The opposite was true a week earlier when her mother, Mariluz Cruz, the church secretary, went with Father Romulo Marin to the sacristy to fight the flames.

Father Romulo Marin, the parochial vicar, was celebrating Easter Mass when the thick, acrid smoke appeared from behind the altar.

As people evacuated, Father Marin grabbed a fire extinguisher to fight the flames, but they were too intense. He received a slight burn to his hand. Torres’ mother also had minor burns.

Once Torres’ family was safely outside, she frantically searched for her mother. They reunited a short time later.

“I broke down right away and she hugged me,” Torres said. “It still makes me cry.”

Father Marin retreated as the roof collapsed, but he shut the door leading to the sanctuary area, which blocked the fire.

During Sunday’s Mass Bishop Brennan told Father Marin that his presence of mind and decisive action prevented more damage and saved lives.

Three firefighters also were hurt battling the blaze. Bishop Brennan commended them, plus all first responders, including police and paramedics, who serve and protect New York City. The congregation responded with enthusiastic applause.

Sunday also was the feast day commemorating devotion to the Divine Mercy, and the famous Divine Mercy image of Jesus was displayed prominently before the congregation.

During his homily, Bishop Brennan said the blessings seen in the wake of the fire are examples of God’s mercy.

He described how the Scripture readings for the Second Sunday of Easter give a glimpse into the early Christian community in the Book of Acts. They pursued mutual care and unity through the power of Jesus’ resurrection, which mirrors how people are ministering to each other after the fire, he said.

“We have seen the Acts of the Apostles in living color,” Bishop Brennan said. “What happened 2,000 years ago is happening here. And the people have been so wonderful, so courageous, and consoling to one another.”

Mely Tolentino, a 14-year member of the parish, agreed.

“We do feel that God has a purpose to this,” she said. “I think he is sending us a message that each day we have to be more united. The toughest circumstances show how we should be more together to fight those circumstances.”

With all the activity moved to All Saints, few people were at Our Lady of the Rosary of Pompeii on Sunday aside from workers who were covering broken windows. Access to the interior of the church complex was not allowed Sunday because of clean-up efforts, including ongoing asbestos abatement, Father Cardilicchia said.

On April 11, investigators with the Fire Department released details of their probe of the fire, saying that a “hot object, hot embers” sparked the flames and they ruled the inferno accidental.

When black smoke engulfed the church March 31, around 150 parishioners were in prayer during the 1 p.m. Spanish-language Easter Mass. Parishioners quickly evacuated. More than 200 firefighters responded to the scene. Besides the three firefighters who were injured, two others also were injured.

In a statement, Bishop Brennan said he was “exceptionally grateful to the men and women” of the FDNY “for the skill they showed” in fighting the blaze. “The respect and love for the church shown by the members of the FDNY was amazing,” he added, saying the diocese plans to work with the FDNY to review fire safety and prevention measures, because the safety of everyone is a priority.

Father Cardilicchia told The Tablet April 7 that the fire has only strengthened the parish’s resolve to be a beacon to Bushwick, which has become increasingly secular in recent years.

“We don’t want to blow the trumpet of retreat,” Father Cardilicchia said. “In other words, we are very grateful and hopeful that the Lord will do something even greater.

“In my experience, it has always been like this: Every time there is a fire, something bigger and greater comes up, not only in terms of the building, but also for the community.”


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