St. John Vianney, Have Pity on Us!
During the Cursillo Weekend planning meeting yesterday, Rosa, Sucy, and Vivian first told me about the early morning fire at St. John Vianney Church in Hacienda Heights, I felt incredible and hurt. Why would anyone commit such a hate crime against a house of worship?! Later, I heard more and saw horrific pictures on the news, and felt deeply saddened.
Though I never lived nearby, St. John Vianney is one of the most familiar churches to me for more than 20 years. I am very fond of her because it is a sizable church, solid and modest. It carries the persona of the founding pastor, Msgr. James O’Callaghan, who was tall and imposing, yet holy and humble. That was my first impression of the church and the pastor, when I visited Father Gabriel Lui there many years ago.
Today is Palm Sunday, and there was a strong urge in me to visit St. John Vianney. It flabbergasted me to witness the extensive fire damage to the church and her surroundings. The church stands in gutted ruins, reminding me those of the World Trade Center in New Year City and the Church of Our Lady in Dresden. It was heart-wrenching to walk around the chain-linked fences and see charred beams and walls still hanging above the foundation.
My tears welled up. I remembered friends past and present sharing the Thanksgiving Eucharist celebrations inside over the years, the processions, the readings, the songs, the prayers, and the exchanges of the sign of Christ’s peace. All gone. I remembered the frail elderly pushing the walker down the center aisle to receive the Holy Communion, and kids running around in the foyer. All gone. So many joys and sorrows, so many prayers and divine inspirations are buried in the rubbles forever.
I stopped by the Eleventh Station of the Cross, which stands about 50 feet north of the church. The tongues of fire scorched the post and eaves; the intense heat melted the Plexiglas cover like torn cling wraps. Yet, amazingly and miraculously, the picture “Jesus is nailed to the Cross” is totally intact. In addition, the Our Lady of Guadalupe mural and shrine by the rectory on the south side of the church were also spared of any apparent damage, while trees and bushes around were all burnt.
Someone quietly handed me a palm branch; I nodded back to show my appreciation. The marble statue of the Agony in the Garden was right in front of me. Jesus kneels toward the direction of the church but buries his face in his arms, as though he was also horrified by the massive act of arson. I knelt down and prayed with a heavy heart; many others followed me.
Though the physical structure of the church was totally destroyed, and everyone appeared silent and somber surveying the damages, many came to Palm Sunday Processions and Masses, held at the O’Callaghan Center. People were assuring each other with few words, but many nods, handshakes, and hugs. Knights of Columbus members and high school volunteers were directing traffic in the parking lots and driveways. Parishioners and well-wishers brought garden flowers and lined up to sign in prayer books.
On my way home, I reflected on the true meaning of Church in the aftermath of this tragic and hideous event. Is it a physical building, or is it a parish community, or is it both? Which is more important? The news stations SNG trucks on site could transmit live footages and interviews, but I witnessed in the parishioners tremendous hope and resilience that cannot be easily transmitted by any reporters. It is faith, the invisible gift from Lord Jesus, that transpires us in the face of tragedy and unites us to overcome evil.
St. John Vianney, the Curé d’Ars, once said, “Man is a beggar who needs to ask God for everything.” May we join in spirit and beseech the holy patron saint of parish priests for his heavenly intercessions in the rebuilding of a vibrant Catholic community and its parish church in Hacienda Heights!
- 2樓. Brian Yu2012/08/09 06:25A suspect is arrested.
A suspect is arrested and he is being charged by the L.A. County District Attorney's office on May 16, 2012. KTLA
- 1樓. isabel2011/04/19 17:20sorry to hear this
不確定是否曾去過，心中很難過。數年前訪美時也有一座教堂被人縱火，為什麼有這麼多「仇恨」？這應該是記憶中針對一個宗教場所最嚴重的 hate crime！ 丁穎達教授 於 2011/05/01 14:37回覆