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Hearts of L.A. / How the Quake Rocked Our Spirits and Changed Our Lives : MAKING SENSE : 'Once you get beyond statues our church is people.'

January 30, 1994|Father Ken Deasy | Father Deasy, 39, is associate pastor at St. Monica's Catholic Church in Santa Monica. The church was seriously damaged during the quake.

Just the Sunday before the quake, I was saying in my homily that this building could collapse--the church could collapse--but we ourselves would still be the church.

People come here--and we're a very popular place--not because of the building, but because of the general warmth. And then, ironically, the next time they're here, the church is closed and they're in the gymnasium. So I said, "Oops."

In a way, though, I think it's helped people realize that once you get beyond the statues and the stained glass and the pillars and the murals, our church is people. The building itself has been here for 66 years. We've been here for 107 years. Hundreds of baptisms. Thousands of funerals, weddings, Masses, celebrations. People bring their joys and their pains. And it took us 45 minutes to get into the building and take everything out--the music books, whatever statues were still standing, microphones.

The doors are closed but not the doors of the congregation's heart. The poorest are being cared for; people who are dying are being cared for. The sick are being taken care of. The elderly are being taken care of. We've had two sessions here already where a psychologist came and talked to help with fears and anxieties.

One of the interesting things is how people are dealing with that whole sense of losing their stuff. Some feel like they've lost everything. Others focus more on family and friends and feel like they've lost nothing.

So you find out what their value system is.

There is always someone in our family that drives us crazy--we love them, but they drive us crazy. There's one in my family. And whenever I call her and ask her how she's doing, I get a list of, "Well I got a job, I got a house, I got a new car, I went to Hawaii." I'm just terrified to call her now and ask her how she's doing because I don't want to hear that she lost all of these things. Because sometimes, by what we have we try to conclude how we're doing.

Some people lost their homes. Some lost jobs. That's scary. I have kids that were in detention camps that are out now and trying to go to occupational schools; now they (the schools) are shut down. So now they're on the street. They're bored. They're probably going to get in trouble. One of my little guys called up and said, "We have no food, Father. I can't go get a job because I'm standing in line at the churches to get food." These are very serious things.

Still, I'm hearing a lot of hope. I'm feeling that after that one initial sense of despair, people are trying to find some type of peace, look at the positive things and discover the joys of God. It's almost like a blind person who can hear better. Someone who is hurt can be more sensitive to others who are hurting.

People are learning that some things they have are not as important. Perhaps they've taken some things for granted and now say: "I'll never do that again. Thank God I'm alive. I'm sorry that someone else got hurt. How can I help them?"

That's what I'm finding going on. I'm finding people just really stopping and assessing their values, appreciating their loves and trying to reconcile those hates. Anger takes a lot of energy. So they find that reconciliation is much better.

Obviously a lot of good can come from this. The whole message of the good news of Christ is there's no greater love than to give one's life to one's friends. I think what it's done is it's taken maybe an intellectual faith and idea and made it more real to people and allowed us to find that we can be Christ to others.

For people who feel they have lost everything, I tell them that God didn't cause this to happen. It's a thing of nature, but sometimes the Lord does leave a hint of an explanation. I think people who have suffered a loss also realize how much people can care for them, and hopefully they can start again.

If they're angry I don't say, "Don't be angry." If they're hurting, I don't say, "Don't hurt." I count on Christ. I say, "Give him your anger. Give him your hurt. Get it out."

I don't have any answers as to why the earthquake happened, why the roof fell in or something like that. But I just try to let them know they're not alone. Sometimes it's not saying anything; just listening and holding their hand and asking if you're OK and can I do something for you. Trying to make connections.

But I also try to tell them that as Christ fell, he got up, too. You can get up when it's time.

Who knows what good is going to come from this; that's part of the mystery. I don't try to deal off false hopes, but it seems we'll get through it.

There is a story about St. Francis of Assisi when he was a playboy-type guy and wild and crazy. In the process of his conversion, he was walking through the fields of Assisi and there was this little abandoned collapsed chapel. He goes in there and the cross spoke to him in a dream and said, "Rebuild my church."

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