Pope Francis prays for victims of Florida building collapse

Pope Francis prays Pope Francis prays before the tomb of St. Paul VI in the crypt of St. Peter's Basilica, Nov. 2, 2020./ Vatican Media/Catholic News Agency

Pope Francis on Saturday offered prayers and condolences to all those affected by a deadly condominium building collapse in Florida this week.

Early on Thursday morning, the 12-story Champlain Towers beachfront condominium building in Surfside, Florida, partially collapsed. As of Saturday morning, four people had been declared dead and 159 people were still unaccounted for in the collapse, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said.

In a June 26 message of solidarity on behalf of Pope Francis to Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said the Holy Father wished to “express his deep sadness at the grievous loss of life” in the building collapse.

Pope Francis “offers heartfelt prayer that Almighty God will grant eternal peace to those who have died, comfort to those who mourn their loss, and strength to all those affected by this immense tragedy,” the Vatican stated.

“With gratitude for the tireless efforts of the rescue workers and all engaged in caring for the injured, the grieving families and those left homeless, Pope Francis invokes upon the entire community the spiritual gifts of consolation, fortitude and perseverance in every good,” the message stated.

The Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, transmitted the message to Archbishop Wenski.

Mayor Cava noted at a Saturday morning press conference that 127 people had been accounted for in the collapse.

The pastor at nearby St. Joseph’s Catholic parish, located just several blocks away from the condominium complex, told CNA on Friday afternoon that nine families from the parish who lived in the complex were still missing. Some of them were daily communicants, the pastor, Fr. Juan Sosa, said.

The total number of persons unaccounted for in the collapse, 159, had not changed in between Friday and Saturday morning, according to authorities.

Three other parish families who lived in the complex were either not present at the time of the collapse, or evacuated the building in time, Fr. Sosa said, and “for this, I am grateful,” he added.

“The entire community, however, is praying for those we do not know about,” he said.

A Mass was scheduled to be offered at St. Joseph’s on Friday morning for all those affected by the collapse. A prayer vigil is being held at the parish on Saturday night, followed by a procession with participants placing flowers and candles near the site of the condominium complex, Fr. Sosa told CNA.

“May the Lord grant us much hope and peace at this time and always!” he said.

Mayor Cava on Saturday said that a fire in the rubble of the collapse has become an obstacle to the search and rescue team on site. The smoke has spread laterally in the rubble, she said.

“Our top priority now continues to be search and rescue,” she said. “Our teams have not stopped.”

Jackie Carrion, a senior staffer with the archdiocesan Catholic Charities, told Florida Catholic of the sadness at the scene at the collapse.

“I have worked hurricanes, but nothing like this: It is just a look of sadness you see on everyone’s face. It is heartbreaking,” she said.

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The chairman of the Miami-Dade board of county commissioners, Jose "Pepe" Diaz, on Saturday urged continued prayer for the victims and the rescue teams.

“Your prayers have been extremely well-received. Please continue the prayers, they’re very important,” he said at the Saturday morning press conference.

On Friday, Archbishop Wenski also offered prayers for the victims and their families.  

A staffer for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Miami told CNA on Friday that the organization is accepting financial donations for families affected by the tragedy, is providing counseling, and is looking into temporary housing for residents who are homeless due to the collapse.

Belen Jesuit Preparatory School in Miami reported in a Facebook post on Friday morning that members of the school community were among those still unaccounted for. Another post on the school’s page asked followers to pray a rosary on Monday, June 28, at 8 p.m. local time, in the Garrido Family Plaza.

“In times of such sadness, we must remain faithful to our heavenly Father and place our trust in Him,” the post stated. “Under the statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and together as a Belen family, we will place all those affected by this tragedy in the hands of Our Lady of Belen.”

St. Patrick Catholic parish, located in nearby Miami Beach, also reported a parishioner missing in the collapse, Florida Catholic noted.

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This article was updated on June 26 with new information.