On Wednesday 13 July, the Parish of St Francis of Assisi, Notting Hill, commemorated the first anniversary of the Grenfell Tower Tragedy with a Mass, led by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, to pray for the repose of the souls of all who died and for the healing and peace of all who survived.
Present at the Mass were the families of at least 13 of the victims and other former residents of the Tower. Also present with the parish community were some of the hundreds of volunteers who assisted at St Francis in the immediate aftermath of the fire last year. They were joined by ecumenical guests Rev Dr Alan Everett from St Clement and St James Anglican Church and Rev Dr Mike Long from Notting Hill Methodist Church.
In his homily, the Cardinal spoke of listening as a pathway to the heart: ‘Day by day, at present, we hear stories of those whose lives were changed forever by this fire. We listen to their accounts and their emotions, and our hearts almost stop beating, such is the immensity of what happened.’
Reflecting on prayer as another pathway to the heart, he added: ‘This prayer, our prayer this evening, takes us to the very heart of the mystery of our living and dying…It is this pathway of prayer, which we take again this evening, to equip us to live together even through the worst of times, as has been shown in this parish, in this neighbourhood, in the very worst of those times.’
After the Mass the Cardinal and the congregation gathered in the courtyard outside the church where Fr Gerard Skinner, the Parish Priest of St Francis, together with Imam Fahim Mazary from the Al-Manaar Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre and Yusuf Al-Khoei from the Al-Khoei Foundation read out the names of all who died due to the fire at Grenfell Tower, followed by 72 seconds of silence.
After the silence the Cardinal blessed a plaque and a statue that commemorate the 15 children, women and men of the parish who died at Grenfell Tower.
The text of the plaque reads:
Of your charity, pray for the repose of the souls of the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire, 14 June 2017. The statue above this courtyard has been erected in memory of those of this parish who died during the fire.
Logan Gomes, Isaac Paulos, Jessica Urbano Ramirez, Gloria Trevisan & Marco Gottardi, Mary Mendy & Khadija Saye, Denis Murphy, Gary Maunders, Vincent Uzoh Chiejina, Ligaya Moore, Berkti & Biruk Haftom, Tony Disson, Raymond ‘Moses’ Bernard
‘And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes;
and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying,
neither shall there be any more pain:
for the former things are passed away.’
The statue is of the Madonna and Child and has been carved by Mr Graham Heeley. Of the names recorded on the plaque 13 mothers and fathers have lived to see the death of a son or daughter (eight mothers and five fathers) and two mothers died with their child. After consulting the families of those who died, the image of Mary with her infant Son, Jesus, was chosen as a fitting memorial to those who died and as a comfort to those who survived. The two figures convey the compassion of a mother and the gentle encouragement and love of her son.
After the service, the Cardinal met some of the families and reflected that the Mass was ‘deeply heartfelt and full of emotion’. He expressed his hope that ‘it has brought some healing’ even as the inquiry continues.
He added: ‘Perhaps we, in our own parishes, can remember this moment and pray for those who died and offer to Almighty God the sacrifice of the Mass for the repose of their souls.’
Fr Gerard Skinner, whose church is situated in the shadow of Grenfell Tower, spoke of the effect of the fire on his parish: ‘United together in this church, in the centre of this parish, we all came together to help and support, to comfort, to listen, to hear.’
Explaining the significance of the statue of Mary and the Infant Jesus dedicated to those who lost their lives in the fire, he said: ‘There’s a gentle presence, a gentle smile, a gentle affirmation, a welcome. I’d like to hope that when those who have lost loved ones look at this statue, they’ll think of Jesus welcoming their loved ones and how he welcomes them too, with Mary his Mother, bringing all of us to Jesus.’
He added ‘Please continue to pray for this community. That those who sit in the shadow of darkness may actually see the light of faith, the light of hope, the light of love that they’ve shared so much over the past year.’