QUEENS — Nearly a week after seawater surged into Breezy Point and fires raged from house to house, hundreds of local Catholics packed the pews of an area church to try to make sense of the disaster.
Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio instructed parishioners and visitors at St. Thomas More Church, which was still without heat or lights, to lean on their faith as they grapple with putting the waterlogged pieces of their lives together.
"God is never closer to us than when we suffer and struggle to find out why this happened to us," DiMarzio said to his audience, filled with many dressed in rubber boots and dirty jeans.
The bishop, who was interrupted by the sound of demolition equipment rumbling outside, recalled the spirit of unity in Breezy Point — which is home to many police officers and firefighters — after the 9/11 attacks.
"You came together then and you came together now because you are a community of faith," he said.
Residents have asked DiMarzio "why it seems the whole peninsula has been abandoned by LIPA," the bishop said. "I question it with everyone else."
Church usher Steve Romano, a Rockaway Park resident who spent the week helping his ex-wife and girlfriend clear storm wreckage from their nearby homes, said the Sunday mass had special meaning for him.
"It makes you feel whole. If I didn't go, I'd feel like I was missing something," he said. "It's nourishment."
Parishioner and fourth-generation Breezy Point resident Kathleen Beissel, who has stayed in a Long Island house with 28 other relatives since fleeing the storm, said the mass, and seeing neighbors she had only spoken with via text message, was a great comfort.
"It reassured us, being here and seeing everyone," she said.
Claire Ryan, a parishioner whose house flooded, agreed: "It felt like a big family was brought together."
Sen. Charles Schumer, Rep. Bob Turner, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes and Councilman Allan Jennings attended the mass and spoke afterward with residents.
Schumer said close-knit Breezy Point residents will rebuild the neighborhood.
"This is a community that comes together," he said. "The best resource we have here is the people."
At least 80 homes burned to the ground after the storm, and hundreds of others suffered damage in the neighborhood, which is still without power, natural gas or safe drinking water.
Father Sean Suckiel, a 27-year-old newcomer to the church, evoked the death and resurrection of Jesus to explain the rejuvenation he predicted would occur.
"After Good Friday, there's Easter Sunday," he said. "After destruction, there is new life."