Before I went to sleep last night, Adrian sent me a message.
“I have bad news, Chunk. St. John [Vianney] is on fire. Danny called right now, said it’s really bad, that they may not be able to save it.”
That was at 12:38 am.
I was shocked, but it didn’t hit me until the next message a minute later.
“[Danny] was crying saying, ‘Oh my God, oh my God,’ talking to Dad.”
I went to bed hoping I’d wake up to find out it wasn’t that bad, the LA County firefighters on the scene were able to save it.
I was wrong. The fire tore through the high roof of St. John Vianney. The church was destroyed, but the rectory was saved. The two priests and seminarian who live in the rectory beside the church awoke when they heard a blast (windows popping) and were not harmed.
Thanks to SJV friends on Facebook, I quickly found some news footage of the fire online. It was surreal to see flames lap at red banners and palm trees up for Palm Sunday services. I wanted to cry as I saw the external damage. My family’s home was destroyed.
My family has been active members of SJV for over 25 years. We were there every Sunday, bright and early for Spanish-language services. We made at least a few more trips during the week for CCD (religious education) classes, choir practices, weekday Masses we were assigned to serve as altar servers, event planning meetings, Bible study and more. For all us Mosqueda kids it was also where we made our First Holy Communion and were confirmed. I hoped to fulfill another sacrament there too, get married next year.
We celebrated festive occasions and sad ones there too. Lori and I both held our quinceañera Masses and receptions at SJV. It was host to the 50th wedding anniversary Masses for both Papá Chepe and Mamá Toni (1993) and Grandma and Grandpa (1994). It’s also where we held the wakes and funeral Masses for Grandma and Grandpa. And there are all the weddings. The last was Heather and Jorge’s in August.
The last Mass I attended at SJV was for the fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe in December. The church was packed, there was a lovely shrine set up for La Virgen. Lots of parishioners were dressed in Mexican garb. Aztec danzantes began the celebration with some dances. Afterward there was a big party in the O’Callaghan Center (SJV’s large multi-purpose room). I helped my mom sell drinks before getting some tacos.
That morning, I saw a lot of people I hadn’t seen in a while. People I grew up around and saw weekly hugged me as if it hadn’t been months since the last time I was there. For some it was years, but it didn’t feel that way. I still felt the same sense of community and love I grew up with.
SJV is more than just a beautiful church. It’s the community.
I know we’re hurting, but we’re strong. We have faith. And we’ll be okay.
Second photo of the burned church from the Los Angeles Times.