By Fr Gerard Skinner
Our hearts truly go out to all who have been deeply affected by the tragedy that unfolded from the early hours of Wednesday 14th June. It is impossible to imagine the pain of those who have lost family and friends or those who are in anguish while they try to discover where loved ones are. With all my heart please know that the prayers of this parish are with you all.
At the time of writing I know that families from our parish community cannot find members of their family; other families have lost their homes and all their possessions. So many of us will know others who lived at Grenfell Tower who have suffered so much.
From early on Wednesday morning our church became the most incredible hub. Scores of volunteers spontaneously came to the Parish Centre and began receiving hundreds of bags of clothes and other items that will be of use to those who have lost everything. They sorted the donated items into boxes that were piled high in the church and courtyard. Human chains passed each box from the Parish Centre and courtyard out to waiting vans. Children were offering their toys for those who now had none and donors hauled in great suitcases of gifts that they had brought by public transport from as far as Hertfordshire, Essex and Suffolk. Throughout the day Frs Peter Wilson and Peter Scott walked around the parish offering comfort to those in distress; the area auxiliary bishop, Bishop John Wilson, joined them in the afternoon. Meanwhile in the centre other volunteers welcomed anyone who needed a place to seek refuge: some of those who came had lost their homes, others had been evacuated from homes near the Grenfell Tower. Some were looking for loved ones; others were escaping from the media attention at the nearby Rugby Portobello Club where they had been awaiting news of relatives with whom they had lost contact. At midnight I closed the gate to the courtyard in front of the church. By 7am on Thursday morning I found myself barricaded in by a wall of more donations.
Thursday brought a further stream of bags and boxes and the phone was continually ringing with more offers of help. Parishioners and men and women from all parts of London came together in the most compassionate and community spirited way imaginable. They all deserve the highest praise possible for the outpouring of care and kindness over the last few days. Now we must be attentive to the ongoing care of those who are in great need and all who have been traumatised by this terrible time.
And how many must be suffering not only from physical injuries but from having seen and heard things that none of us should have to bear. On the day after the disaster I joined Frs Wilson and Scott in prayer for the victims of the fire at the very foot of Grenfell Tower. Over 24 hours after the disaster began, small fires still blazed, smoke obliterating sight of the higher storeys of the burnt out building. We listened to firemen, policemen and others who were there to support them in their painful work.
Meanwhile St Francis of Assisi Primary School had been welcomed by the nearby Sion-Manning Catholic Girls' School and the totally dedicated staff of both schools made the brave children feel at home in their new, unfamiliar surroundings. On behalf of Cardinal Vincent, Bishop John Wilson visited the school to the great delight of pupils and staff. And then the Cardinal himself came to offer prayer for the afflicted and meet with those who had suffered so much in recent days: a time of much needed reflection amidst the turmoil.
Every morning priests pray a prayer that encompasses so much of our human frailty and our need for our Saviour, Jesus Christ. This prayer concludes, 'He will give light to those in darkness, those who dwell in the shadow of death, and guide us into the way of peace.'
May God grant eternal rest to those who have died and help us all, especially those must in need, now and in the days and years ahead.
Fr Gerard Skinner is Parish Priest of St Francis of Assisi Church, Notting Hill.