Father Juan Sosa is the pastor of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Miami Beach, and an estimated 20 to 25 of his parishioners remain unaccounted for following the Thursday morning collapse of the Champlain Towers South condo in nearby Surfside, Fla.
Sosa said nine families appear to be among the victims. As the days have elapsed, his thoughts have seldom strayed from the missing. In an interview on Monday, he shared memories about those he continues to pray for.
“The Moras were joyful and happy and always cracking jokes. They were great, I’d have dinner with them,” Sosa told Yahoo News, referring to Ana and Juan Mora, a married couple who lived on the 10th floor of Champlain Towers South.
He also recalled the many milestones he shared with the parishioners, such as baptizing Emma Guara, and helping her sister, Lucia, make First Communion at the church. Lucia and Emma are the young daughters of Marcus and Ana Guara. All are missing.
Hilda Noriega, mother of North Bay Village Police Chief Carlos Noriega, had been living in the building for more than 20 years, according to the Miami Herald, and was an active member of the church. She too is unaccounted for since Champlain Towers South fell.
“She was always very much in touch with the diocese. She dedicated a statue that is presently across the street from St. Mary’s Cathedral in honor of her daughter, who died of an accident,” Sosa said.
Of the 151 people still missing, the exact number who attended services at St. Joseph’s is hard to pinpoint, Sosa said, because many people show up each week who are not registered with the church, a five-minute walk from the condo.
Now, as community members anxiously wait for new developments, St. Joseph’s has become a place where people come to seek hope.
“People have been coming in and out at all times of the day,” Sosa said. “We are also providing space in the parking lot for first responders and media people.”
Sosa has made it a priority for the community to pray for the missing people, whether or not they belong to the church.
“We have a remembrance binder so that many other names that we’d like to know that we do not know, friends of our parishioners, could be listed there by the parishioners themselves who come to visit,” he explained.
At each Mass, he has been reading out the names of those missing.
While the tragedy has been devastating, with a rising death toll of at least 10 and so many still missing, Sosa says many people have come together to support the affected community.
“Everyone is helping, everyone is putting themselves together. We keep getting phone calls about how to help, how to serve, from our Catholics but also from other places,” he said. “Prayers have been coming in from across the United States, from Europe and South America. And also locally, from Orthodox churches, other Christian communities and denominations, as well as from Jewish rabbis.
“You can see the effervescent need to help that community members have, not just from our community but from everywhere else,” Sosa continued.
During these difficult times, the church has been focused on offering support, and doing what it can to remain optimistic.
“We are spreading a message of hope,” Sosa said. “We hope to find and to rescue.”
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