By Joseph Kolb, ,
Published January 10, 2017
All that remains of St. Augustín Chapel is a concrete slab and stacks of blackened smoke-stained cinder blocks, except for an unexpected discovery that some feel is a miracle in a city desperately in need of some.
It's more than a miracle, it was extraordinary considering everything else in the church was destroyed.
After the June 13 fire was extinguished, a fireman brought Rev. Benjamín Gaytán, the Roman Catholic priest who serves as the pastor of the chapel, a large wood framed portrait of Our Lady of Guadalupe that once hung in the church.
Except for some pealing and blistering of the veneer coating on the painting and mild smoke stains, the portrait survived the fire and was found lying face down in a corner of the church.
Gaytán said it may not be a literal miracle but a symbolic one his parishioners needed in their time of despair.
"It's more than a miracle, it was extraordinary considering everything else in the church was destroyed," Gaytán said. "At first I was devastated by the fire but when the fireman brought me the portrait I was immediately overcome with hope."
Gaytán said the fire started sometime around 3 a.m. and quickly spread through the church that has a capacity of 160 worshipers. Destroyed were 40 benches, every religious statue, relics, books, and vestments Gaytán would wear for Mass. Everything, except the portrait of the Virgin.
“I was told by the fire department the cause of the fire may have been a short in the electrical system," Gaytán said.
Published reports said the fire was caused by pirated electricity from a power line, which is common here.
The chapel was made of plaster covered wood shipping pallets intricately designed to make the eight-year-old structure home to this small congregation.
Gaytán was quick not to call the survival of the portrait of the Virgin, the iconic symbol of the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico, an actual miracle, but he was filled with joy by the reaction of the community.
"I told everyone to stop crying about the loss and use the Virgin as inspiration to rebuild the church," he said. "The message from the survival of the Virgin is that God wants our church here."
Residents, some of whom did not belong to the congregation offered their help in cleaning out the ashes and debris and begin the rebuilding of the larger church which is expected to hold some 500 people.
Gaytán said the new church is going to cost $200,000 to build but isn't quit sure where all of the funds will come from.
"We did not have insurance so we are getting help from the diocese and relying on donations," Gaytán said.
On a hot afternoon last week the temperatures reached a scorching 105 degree but a crew of six men and two teens were filling holes in the slab foundation with gravel and concrete and preparing the cinder blocks for the rebuilding process. Whatever could be salvaged was place in a neat pile in the middle of the lot the chapel once stood upon.
"I think it was a miracle, I believe more now in the church," said 16 year-old Carlos Alberto who was stacking cinder blocks.
Gaytán said this particular neighborhood has been able to escape much of the violence that has consumed Juárez over the past four years, but the people were still reluctant to spend much time outside. He said there is much work that needs to be done among the youth here.
"This portrait is going to be part of the people's lives," he said. "The miracle is not so much the image of Our Lady being rescued, but how it brought people together."