A prayer vigil was held at the Church of the Annunciation in Houston in the aftermath of the nearby Astroworld music festival stampede Nov. 5, 2021. / Courtesy of Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo
Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 11, 2021 / 19:54 pm (CNA).
When a parishioner suggested that a local Catholic church in Houston, Texas, hold a prayer vigil for the victims of the Astroworld music festival stampede victims, the pastor took immediate action.
“It’s important that the Church be in the mix and engaging people to have faith in God and to turn to God in joys, as well as in sorrows,” Father Paul Felix, the pastor of the Church of the Annunciation, told CNA.
A 22-year-old Texas A&M student who was caught in the crush Nov. 5 at NRG Park died Wednesday, her family announced, bringing the death toll from the stampede to nine, the Associated Press reported. Hundreds were injured, and a 9-year-old boy remains in a medically induced coma, according to the AP.
The stampede came as rapper Travis Scott performed on stage for a crowd of 50,000. The event is now considered one of the deadliest U.S. concerts. A criminal investigation is underway.
In response to the tragedy, Houston businessman and Annunciation parishioner Jim McIngvale approached Felix the following Sunday about holding a prayer vigil at the church, a 15-minute drive from NRG Park. When Felix said yes, McIngvale, the founder of Gallery Furniture and known in Houston as “Mattress Mack,” played a central role in publicizing the event.
Felix presided over the vigil for the deceased taken from the Order of Christian Funerals.
“I just applied it to a number of people who had died as opposed to a vigil for a single individual,” he explained.
After processing out, he returned to lead a rosary.
The pastor estimated that 20 people, Catholic and non-Catholic, attended the Nov. 7 vigil. The attendees included local officials such as Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Houston Fire Department Chief Sam Peña, and Fort Bend County Sheriff Eric Fagan, local media reported. The Dominican Sisters of Mary Immaculate Province, locally known as the “rally nuns” after appearing at Houston Astros games at the invitation of McIngvale, also came.
“I just think that the people who were in attendance, they seemed to be very receptive,” Felix remembered. “They seemed to be very prayerful and they assembled with a disposition of sincerity of coming humbly before God.”
Felix pointed to two main purposes of the vigil.
“Our Lord calls us to do the corporal and spiritual works of mercy and this is certainly in that category — a spiritual work of mercy,” he said. Felix also stressed the importance of the Church finding ways to interact with an increasingly secular society.
“We’re very interested in positively engaging the community and helping people understand that prayer is appropriate in all circumstances,” he said, “and so, just having kind of open arms, so to speak, because the Holy Spirit can work through these things, I think, and bring people to faith and even create awareness among others who are non-Catholic to see the loving, caring face of the Church.”
Felix listed the second purpose of the recent prayer vigil as a “manifestation to embrace people and show caring concern, prayerful concern for those who died as well as their families and those who were injured and for their families and a very traumatic event.”
“As Catholics, we have a theology of the cross and the resurrection,” he said. “We have an understanding for redemptive suffering that the world doesn’t necessarily grasp, and we understand that we are our brother’s keeper. And so praying on behalf of those who suffer (from) this terrible tragedy is very, very important, I think, and the outreach and calling people to have faith in the midst of these things and to turn to God.”
Felix cited the example of the church’s outreach during the recent World Series games in Houston.
“I had my church open and I had banners inviting people to come in and light a candle and say a prayer for the Astros,” he said. “We had an evangelization table out on the sidewalk, with evangelization materials, rosaries, miraculous medals.”
Annunciation, he said, is the oldest parish in continuous use in Houston of any faith. The parish is currently celebrating 150 years since its dedication.
“This is just a reminder, I think, of the substantive presence of the Church, and this particular parish’s mission as a continuum for these 150 years,” Felix said of the vigil, “and I think it’s a reminder of how much we really need — the world needs — our witness and our service.”