Fr. Ahlemeyer reports that a day or two after the storm, he and Father Jimmy Dunne, who is in residence at St. Camillus, walked along the boulevard in Broad Channel to talk to people and see how they were doing.
"Everyone was just pulling out everything from their houses … the places now are just shells, and then they had to rip out all the walls because of the mold, and now they're just empty exposures."
"You know 9/11 made us appreciate in New York the framework of the first responders … Hurricane Sandy's gonna make us appreciate the sanitation department because of the work they're doing removing the garbage. And it's not even garbage, it's people's lives, it's everything."
He also recounted how in the aftermath of the hurricane, the parish continues to experience deaths related to it "among our elderly, who were displaced and are now beginning to suffer shock because of that."
Fr. Ahlemeyer's mother's best friend, Eileen, was buried recently. "The day before the funeral, the restoration company had come and they cut out all the walls of the church four feet up, and it had to be done because of the mold … and the water was up over the pews."
"Plus, there are real needs right now. We have a food program running out of our gymnasium. 100 people a day are coming to get food and hot meals, because they don't have any place to cook, and there are no places to buy food on the peninsula – no stores are open."
"It's nice to hear the generosity of people, and the extraordinary response from other areas outside of the New York area … and it's needed, it's needed. This is going to be a problem that won't be solved in a day or a week."
Fr. Ahlemeyer concluded by relating an inspiring conversation he had with a parishioner on the first Saturday after the hurricane struck.
"I went back to St. Virgilius, and one of the parishioners was there with a whole bunch of firemen who were ripping up the carpet in the church, because of the oil smell. I had been in the church and I had to get out, I couldn't even stay in there two minutes."
"So these guys were ripping up the carpets and one comes over to me and says, 'Now Father, we are having the 10 o'clock Mass tomorrow, right?'"
"I said, 'Well I know we can't say Mass in here with the oil being what it is, because people couldn't stay in here more than five minutes.'"
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"He said, 'Well that's why we took the carpet up. We're going to put the benches back, and we'll get the word out, Father, that there is Mass, 'cause I think the community needs Mass, we need to be able to come together.'"
"So," Fr. Ahlemeyer recounts, "I said Mass at 10 at St. Virgilius, and people came and they cried together, and they talked, and they held each other."
"And I think that's what the people needed, the people needed to be able to come together and reassure each other and support each other, and they wanted to do it in the context of the Mass."
Donations for the parishes in the Brooklyn diocese impacted by Hurricane Sandy can be made to Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens at www.ccbq.org.