.- In response to an urgent call for help from Cardinal Antonio Rouco Varela of Madrid, hundreds of priests and religious rushed to the scene of last week’s terrorist attacks in Madrid in order to help and console victims of the bombings.
“I remember an 18 year-old young man. He was with his friend. He no longer has a family. His father died 8 years ago and he was living alone with his mother. On the 11th, she had the day off and decided to go shopping in Madrid. At the Atocha station she was met with death. He told me, ‘I’m all alone now. I only have my friends.’ I told him, ‘And you have a priest, too, who also loves you and prays for your mother.’ I gave him my address,” said Fr. Angel Camino of the Parish of San Manuel and San Benito.
”And this is perhaps the most tragic,” continues Fr. Camino. “Maria de la Soledad was seated next to one of the backpacks filled with explosives. She was identified by her fingerprints. She was totally blown to pieces, her sister tells me. What a coincidence! Her children were baptized in my parish and her funeral will be here at the express wishes of her husband and parents. All I have done is listen and listen, offer consolation and be present through these small acts of love. The reward has been infinitely greater. I haven’t been turned away by hardly anyone. Quite the contrary. What a lesson of how love pain can be turned into love, of suffering offered up.”
Fr. Santiago Martín was present at the make-shift morgue set up to hold the bodies of those slain. “It is very hard to describe the scene. I have had a hard time sleeping, my chest is hurting and I am nervous. The bodies were on the floor in white and black plastic bags, lined up like soldiers going to receive a medal: the one God was going to give them in Heaven.”
“After I finished praying for the repose of their souls, I knelt down and found it very difficult not to weep. Even now tears well up in my eyes. Later we went to where more of the deceased were being held, according to the areas in which the victims were killed, blessing those bodies that were deprived of life.”
Soon after receiving word of the Archbishop’s request, Jesuit Fr. Alberto Lopez, 81, went to one of the places where victims were being treated. “I remember speaking with a grieving young man, his eyes red from so many tears. The remains of his pregnant wife of just three years had just been identified. I was speechless, like a blank page,” he said.
“I was so moved by that young man who had lost his wife in the attacks,” said Fr. Juan Carlos Garcia. “Although they advised him not to lift up the sheet that covered the body of his wife, he did so and broke down in tears and anger. It was very difficult,” the priest said.
”I was moved and I approached him and asked if he wanted to pray the Our Father for his wife. He tearfully agreed, and we prayed as our voices trembled. I hugged him as we said goodbye and gave him my blessing. Since then I have remembered him in all my Masses, that the Lord might console him, bless him and protect him,” he concluded.
Chaplains at the hospitals were the wounded were treated worked tirelessly to offer their assistance. Fr. Jesus Herrero, chaplain of the Gregorio Marañon Hospital, recalled that he visited “an Ecuadorian who was under heavy sedation. When I told him I was the chaplain, he opened his eyes with joy and said, ‘Father, we must thank God for those who have survived and pray for those who didn’t.’ The strength of those wounded is remarkable.”
Fr. Fructuoso, chaplain at La Paz Hospital, said that “some of those wounded asked to go to confession and they and their family members were thankful for the spiritual assistance. I concentrated on helping family members who came in search of their children.”