A nation attends funerals

Mourners throng ceremonies across Spain to commemorate the dead

March 14, 2004|By Tracy Wilkinson | Tracy Wilkinson,LOS ANGELES TIMES

MADRID, Spain - Spain buried its dead yesterday in a mourning ritual that played itself out across the country.

At one of Madrid's largest funeral parlors, every room was in use. In the suburb of Alcala de Henares, all 40 of its slain residents were eulogized in a mass funeral service.

The death toll in Thursday's train bombings rose to 200 when Francisco Moreno, a 56-year-old accountant and sole supporter of his 82-year-old mother, succumbed to his wounds.

Still unable to absorb the news, Moreno's relatives staggered into a chapel at one of Alcala's two cemeteries for a brief service. One teen-ager, his body convulsed by sobs, collapsed. Paramedics rushed to his side.

In Madrid, hundreds of grieving families crowded into the Tanatorio Sur, or South Funeral Parlor, a two-story complex with 60 rooms for paying respects to the dead. A procession of hearses arrived and departed throughout the day. In the lobby, an overhead video monitor with an unsettling resemblance to those seen in airport terminals displayed the names of the dead along with the numbers of assigned viewing rooms.

The relatives and friends of Luis Rodriguez gathered inside Room 10 for his wake, with many spilling outside into the corridor. The 40-year-old government clerk was riding in the passenger car where one of the bombs exploded as it pulled into the Santa Eugenia station.

"Our only consolation is that at least he never knew what hit him," said his brother-in-law, Jose Luis Rasero. "It's not just us. Two hundred families have been destroyed."

Juan Antonio Sanchez Quispe, a 43-year-old janitor, was one of five Peruvians being mourned at the complex.

"His life was the life of all immigrants here," said a friend, Ismael Bernabe, also Peruvian. "A hard worker. A father. He went to work every morning on that train." Sanchez had a wife and two teen-age sons. He left the Peruvian port city of Callao nine years ago in search of a better life in Spain.

"It's hard to understand," Bernabe said. "What can you do? This was a massacre, a massacre."

A third of the dead were immigrants from 11 countries.

In Alcala, 25 priests led the mass funeral for the town's fallen, inside a cavernous gymnasium, standing room only. The scent of incense was overpowering. Two coffins of brightly polished wood sat at the head of the auditorium, symbolizing the 40 Alcala residents who died on their way to work.

"All Alcala is with you," Monsignor Jesus Catala, the bishop of Alcala, told grieving families. "All Spain is with you."

The widow of Felix Gonzalez, a 50-year-old lieutenant in the Spanish army, sat in the front row, her face gaunt, her eyes hidden behind dark glasses. The Gonzalezes' two little boys, ages 10 and 11, sat at their mother's side, squirming and daubing their eyes with tissues.

Gonzalez lay in one coffin. In the next was Pilar Cabrejas, 37, who worked for the telephone company.

She and her husband, Jesus Munoz, had known each other most of their lives. They had no children but lived for each other, recalled an aunt. "He has been left completely empty," the aunt, Nieves Diaz, said between her tears. "I'm asking God to help me forgive. I took Communion and everything, but I cannot forgive. I cannot."

Authorities have assigned psychologists to help families deal with grief and the horror of realizing how relatives perished.

"Why, why, why? - that's what they want to know," psychologist Isabel Casado said. "Why did this happen?"

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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