CASHION, Ariz — If there is a phrase the faithful live by concerning their physical worship spaces, it is that the Church is the body of Christ – its people.

So, when parishioners of St. William in Cashion lost their building to fire last week, including religious education classrooms, their food pantry and parish hall, they knew they could lean on their pastor, Fr. Andres Arango, as well as one another.

A close-knit, largely Spanish-speaking community of predominantly blue-collar families, St. William has anchored the Catholic population of the east Avondale area since the 1960s, when it was built as a mission to serve immigrant farmers. Growth eventually forced St. William to seek a larger building, and in 1981, it bought a former Southern Baptist church at 111th Ave. and 3rd Street, renovated it, and dedicated it the following year.

On Sunday, worshippers attended Mass at the parish’s other church, Santa Maria de Guadalupe Mission in Phoenix — their first since the fire — and were still in shock.

“It’s my whole life,” said Rosa Bravo, a catechist and parishioner for 50 years. “My children, my grandchildren were baptized here. We celebrated all the sacraments here. I can’t even describe the pain,” she said tearfully.

“It’s overwhelming; unbelievable, thinking about all the memories – the Masses, my family; their burials, funerals, everything else,” said Alice Samarippa, 61, who began going to the St. William Mission church as a 7-year-old with her four aunts, mother and brother.

“The church was next to my house as I grew up, and my mom was involved in everything, so as a little girl, I was always involved,” she recalled.

“It is painful. It is not only the building but the efforts of many people years ago, all the suffering, the sacrifices to get that (original) church,” said Fr. Arango prior to Sunday’s 8 a.m. Mass. “But we know the Church is not only the building, it is the people of God. We can see sadness because the building is down, but we can see the hope in everybody, which is giving us unity.”

Later, in his Homily, Fr. Arango recalled Jesus’ words to His disciples during the Last Supper, recorded by St. John in the day’s Gospel reading.

“This is the time to remain strong in love. That love is expressed by supporting one another. Love should be real in our actions, our prayers, our donations, and our activities,” he said.

“Today means (being) family, community, brothers, and sisters. It doesn’t matter what happens, God is with us. God’s love never dies.”


There were small but powerful graces; reminders of that love.

Parishioners, including Samarippa, shared a photograph of the charred but intact St. William tabernacle.

Embedded within a stone wall, the slightly more than 1-inch-thick, fire-retardant metal container bore the consecrated host, untouched by flames.

“It’s incredible; unbelievable,” said Samarippa.

“That was very touching, knowing that God is in our presence,” echoed Elaina Lopez, 31, who has attended St. William for two years.

“We trust in the promise of Jesus: ‘I am with you all days,’” said Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares prior to vesting for the 9:30 a.m. Mass, one of three Spanish-language services celebrated by Nevares and fellow Diocesan clergy. “In the good times and bad, Jesus Christ is with us, and we really trust in the fulfillment of that promise.”

Joining Bishop Nevares were Msgr. Peter Bui, the Diocese’s vicar for clergy, for the 11:30 a.m. Mass, and Fr. John Muir, vicar general and moderator of the curia, who celebrated the 1:30 p.m. Spanish Mass.

Bishop John P. Dolan is on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, with the malades served by the Sovereign Order of Malta and is due to return May 8.

Reported around 1 a.m. Wednesday, the fire was burning throughout St. William when first responders from the City of Avondale and surrounding communities rolled up.

Though firefighters were unable to save the building, there were no casualties.

A cause is under investigation.

The parish was fully insured and plans to rebuild.

Funds are being raised to aid staff and the community’s additional expenses.

The Diocese of Phoenix has received scores of inquiries, and has set up a QR code and donor link at:

Plans for relocating catechism classes are still being worked out.


Other graces emerged as well, helping the food bank, which serves about 25 needy families on a weekly basis.

Samarippa, also president of St. William’s St. Vincent de Paul Conference, which operates the food bank, produced a series of photos she took hours after the fire, showing dozens of untouched cans and boxes of donated food. The section of structure housing the food bank suffered only smoke and some water damage, she explained.

“We’ve checked everything. I opened a warped can of peaches. It was fine. I ate some.”

Hours later, there was more good news.

St. Vincent de Paul Phoenix announced that the pantry will operate locally at a site near St. William.

Mercy House Community Center, 1249 S. 111th Ave. in Cashion, has agreed to serve as donation and pickup site.

“SVdP Vincentians will be on-site at Mercy House from 1 p.m. until 3:30 p.m. on Wednesdays to serve neighbors in need, and Mercy House is also open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays,” said St. Vincent de Paul Associate Chief Mission Engagement Officer John Junker. “The St. William Conference will be supported by our Diocesan and District Councils and other Conferences. Food donations are welcome and can be dropped off during the hours listed,” he added.

Recently added space to meet Santa Maria de Guadalupe Mission church’s own demand will serve the Masses for St. William parishioners, too.

External chapels, consisting of roof extensions above open-air patio seating for several hundred, are equipped with television monitors and speakers for those who cannot fit into the sanctuary.

While their building is gone, their faith is intact, said parishioners

“I know God will give me the strength and get me through (this),” said Bravo, who was due to celebrate her 50th wedding anniversary in two weeks at St. William. “It’s very hard and painful. I know God is going to take care of us and send me the answers I’m seeking. In His time, always, not my time.”

“I’m (learning) every day is a blessing,” said Santiago Canales, 24, parishioner, and Grand Knight, Knights of Columbus Santo Toribio Romo Council 14804. “My faith is stronger. It hurt to see our church go down. I’ve been going since I was 7 or 8 years old. There are a lot of memories made in that church. I’m grateful all the people we made the memories with are still around, and hopefully (here) to create many more.”

“This (fire) has taught us a real lesson that we are the Church,” Bishop Nevares said. “We are the ‘living stones’ upon which Jesus Christ builds His Church.”

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