Words cannot give an accurate account of what happened to Breezy Point during Hurricane Sandy. In just hours, Hurricane Sandy changed the lives of every resident forever. For one to encounter the effects of the hurricane, one must visit and experience it personally.
I am a new comer to the Breezy Point community. I am a newly ordained Catholic priest and was assigned to Blessed Trinity parish on July 1, 2012.
Prior to the storm, Breezy Point was under a mandatory evacuation by Mayor Bloomberg's office. Many people did not obey and decided to stay. On Oct. 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy destroyed most of Breezy Point. The community experienced the complete loss of many homes due to fire, and extensive flooding to every single home of the Breezy Point cooperative.
Once the hurricane hit, there was not much that could be done. Due to the high flood levels, both the local volunteer fire department and the New York Fire Department could not respond to the urgent needs of the community. They themselves were trapped.
I spoke to many of the people who stayed through the storm. They have all remarked they should have evacuated because it was the scariest thing they had ever seen. Many believed that they would not survive.
During the night of the storm, as the fire spread rapidly and tore through over 100 homes, many residents sought shelter. The only place where they could run was the local Catholic Church at St. Thomas More on Rockaway Point Boulevard. One resident described it as running into the arms of God the Father, because she knew that once she arrived to the Church that everything would be okay. There was literally no other place to go, but to run to the Church in waist-deep water.
After the hurricane passed, the worst was not yet over. The following day, residents who did evacuate started to return to the neighborhood to survey their homes. For me, as a newly ordained priest of only four months, it was a paralyzing experience. This was not something I was prepared for. It will be something that I can never forget. I felt helpless, and there were no words that could be of comfort to the people in the midst of this destruction.
Many people were thankful to God that no life was taken the night of the storm and that everyone in the community was safe and accounted for.
Thanksgiving came a little early this year for all of us in Breezy Point. The Sunday after the storm, residents packed St. Thomas More Church, filling up the pews, the side aisles and out the main door, giving thanksgiving to God.
Some families' homes were burnt to the ground. Every person, in one way or another, had damages and lost property. Yet, everyone made time to attend Mass on Sunday. It was a candlelight Mass because there was no power. It was a very moving experience for the entire community. It was vital to this community. We needed to come together and pray. This Mass was a turning point for us because the worst was now over. People's hearts were filled with deeper faith and a renewed sense of hope as we now begin to rebuild Breezy Point.
Our hearts are broken, our homes are destroyed, but our faith is strong. As one of the pastors of the community, I encourage the people to not lose faith, to not lose hope. This tight-knit community's foundation is built on faith.
Breezy Point is now a community of hope, and the symbol of this hope is the statue of Mary, which did not burn down in the midst of the devastation.
Many people have asked, is it possible to be thankful in the midst of crisis and adversity? Our human nature screams "No!" yet God whispers "Yes." This year, Thanksgiving takes on a new meaning for all of us. We have so much to be thankful for: the gift of human life, the first responders, the volunteers, the different faith traditions, all of those who have donated food and clothing, families who have taken others in during this time of great need.
In Philippians 4:6-7, St. Paul writes, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."
We are thankful this year because of the differences people have made in our lives after Hurricane Sandy. For us in Breezy Point, thanksgiving takes on a new meaning and a new dimension. For us, it is now not only a holiday weekend, but it is an attitude to live by.
We now live in Thanksgiving!
As we come to this season of Thanksgiving, it reminds us of the difficulties, the struggles, the challenges that the early pioneers endured. If it were not for the help of the Native Americans, they all would have perished.
I know as we look forward in the New Year to come, there are many questions that fill our hearts and minds. We are worried. We are filled with anxiety about our futures. Yet what kept the pioneers stable was their unshakable faith in God. He alone gave them the strength that they needed to persevere through undoubtedly difficult times.
God never abandons, God only desires to be with us. This season as we gather as a family around our Thanksgiving tables, let us remember that we need to live in Thanksgiving not only this weekend, but everyday of our earthly lives.