Church offers counseling to help students cope with trauma of London fire

IMAGE: CNS photo/Stefan Wermuth, Reuters

By Simon Caldwell

Church agencies are helping London
Catholic school students cope with the trauma of the Grenfell Tower fire,
including knowing that some of their fellow students are missing.

Children who attended Catholic
schools in the shadow of Grenfell Tower are among about 76 people who have yet
to be accounted for. Police have confirmed that 30 people died in the June 14
fire, with the death toll expected to rise as emergency services personnel search
the ruins for bodies.

John Paul Morrison, the director
of education for the Archdiocese of Westminster, told Catholic News Service
June 16, said the archdiocese was offering counseling to students, to help them
to deal with the trauma of the tragedy.

“What they have witnessed
was incredibly shocking,” said Morrison. “Television and media can
only touch on it.

“The thing that really hit
the students was the screaming,” he said. “I spoke to some people
yesterday who were very upset by that — by hearing, ‘Help me!’, ‘Help me!'”

Morrison confirmed that students
were missing from the schools, but he declined to say how many, saying he did
not wish to identify them prematurely.

He said hundreds of other students
and their families were evacuated from the vicinity of the 24-story building
because of the possibility that it might collapse and scatter debris over a
half-mile radius.

All students of the 240-place St.
Francis of Assisi Catholic Primary School, which is close to the tower, have
been relocated to Sion Manning Catholic Girls School, which is outside of the
zone cordoned off by police.

“I think from an
educational point of view, it is really important you get back to some form of
consistency and normality as much as you can in a period of incredible anguish
and tragedy,” said Morrison.

He said that teachers tried
extremely hard to provide students with a normal day in class, and schools
across the archdiocese helped by delivering books and other materials needed at
short notice.

Morrison said he was “very
proud” of the response to the tragedy of the Catholic Church “at
every level.”

“It was good to see all
elements of the church’s mission come together to address what is an incredibly
said but also an incredibly complex situation,” he added.

St. Francis of Assisi Church in
Notting Hill was one of two churches to serve as a collection point for members
of the public who wished to contribute clothing, food and other supplies for
families dislocated by the fire.

Father Gerard Skinner, the
parish priest, was so inundated with donations that within hours there was no
storage space remaining.

He left a message on his telephone
to tell well-wishers that the church was “at capacity.” He said he
was also overwhelmed by offers of practical assistance.

The fire in Grenfell Tower in
North Kensington, in the west of the capital, is believed to have started in
the early hours of the morning in a faulty refrigerator in the fourth-floor
home of Behailu Kebede, a taxi driver from Ethiopia.

It spread rapidly because it
ignited the flammable cladding that encased the tower block, and many trapped
tenants jumped from the building to escape the flames and smoke.

About 80 people are being
treated in hospital and about 17 of them are described as being in “critical”

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