Ties of faith broaden feeling of loss

Catholic parishioners trying to come to grips with killing of 3 children

May 31, 2004|By Stephanie Hanes | Stephanie Hanes,SUN STAFF

The killings of three children last week in a Park Heights apartment were at the front of many parishioners' minds yesterday as they walked into what is considered the mother of Baltimore's Hispanic churches.

It didn't matter that the families of Alexis Espejo Quezada, 10, Lucero Solis Quezada, 9, and Ricardo A. Quezada Jr., 9, did not attend St. Michael the Archangel Roman Catholic Church, at Wolfe and Lombard streets, or its nearby sister church, St. Patrick.

It didn't matter that most parishioners - a combination of immigrants from Mexico, El Salvador and elsewhere, along with some longtime residents - didn't know the children personally.

The killings were still a blow, still indescribable, still calling for prayer.

"We are very much a united Hispanic community in the city of Baltimore," said the Rev. James Gilmour. "So it affects us very deeply."

At the 10 a.m. English-language Mass, Gilmour called on his congregants to pray for the children, their parents, and for the repentance of their killers. The Rev. Hernan Juarez repeated the request during the Spanish-language service at 12:15.

The children's uncle and cousin have been charged in the killings.

Before the Mass in Spanish, Alma Reyes, 15, and her siblings, 11-year-old Frankie Reyes Jr. and 13-year-old Susan Reyes, said they planned to pray for the children.

Alma, a student at the Institute of Notre Dame, said she had found out about the killings from a friend.

"I thought, `Oh my gosh, why would someone do that?'" she said.

Her father, Frank Reyes, said he doesn't know how to talk about the killings with his children - it's just too horrible.

"It's devastating," he said, glancing toward the pew where his daughters and son were seated.

Mario Diaz, 30, who is originally from El Salvador and lives in Patterson Park, said he, like so many, was shocked when he heard about the killings.

"Nothing like this has happened in our community," he said. Diaz has three children, ages 6, 5 and 3.

On average, about 450 to 500 people come to Spanish-language Mass on Sundays at St. Michael's, said Joe J. Thomas, 81. Over the 30 or so years Thomas has been coming to church, he has seen the number of Hispanic immigrants grow. Now, the Spanish-language Mass is typically much larger than the English one.

Deacon Michael L. Flamini said other Hispanic parishes around Baltimore are offshoots of St. Michael's. So when news of the killings started spreading Thursday evening, he knew his congregation would be affected.

"How could anybody do anything like that to little children?" he asked during the English-language Mass. He told the parishioners that in times like these, they should seek out God. "We are never alone, even at our lowest moments," he said.

Gilmour urged parishioners to attend an interfaith prayer vigil Wednesday at the Park Heights apartment complex where the children were killed. More information about that service will be forthcoming, he said.

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