On October 7th, a fire broke out in the Shrine of Christ the King Church, on 6415 South Woodlawn Avenue in Chicago, next to the headquarters office of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest. Evidence indicate that the fire began late at night in the wooden choir loft, and quickly spread through the church. The extra-alarm fire took 150 firefighters several hours to bring under control. No one was hurt, thankfully, but substantial damage was done.
Coming to church for the 8AM Mass, a mother of eight stood across the street and cried at the sight of the burning church.
The fire destroyed most of the roof of the church, the entire choir loft, the windows, and most of the interior furnishings of the church. The damage from water and smoke in the rest of the church and sacristy is extensive and is still being assessed.
Perhaps the most poignant moment of this tragic morning was seeing a firefighter emerge from the church, holding the Infant King in his arms, and handing it to Canon Talarico. This iconic 18th-century statue originated from Spain and graced the High Altar of the Shrine. It was a symbol of the loveliness and the divine majesty of Baby Jesus, and was adored by devotees from all over the country. Incredibly, this wooden statue was found still standing over the altar, while the roof fell in all around it, and the high heat had bent the High Altar Cross next to it.
Though damaged in the fire, somehow the hope and the beauty of the Infant Christ King shone through the soot.
Ironically, the present church has been undergoing restoration from the effects of a 1976 fire that consumed it. As a historical landmark, it was placed under the care of the Institute in 2004. The ensuing years have witnessed a great transformation of this formerly closed church. As the interior and the exterior of the church were slowly renovated, the congregation grew steadily, encompassing many young families who actively participated in the restoration efforts. The church also became a great asset in the neighborhood, offering concerts and social events that edified many. The Infant King devotion, centered on the historic statue, has attracted adherents from all over the country.
This church was a spiritual home to many families, and it is abslutely heartbreaking to see the hardwork of the past ten years destroyed: gone are the new roof, the altars, the pews, the artwork, the familiar statues, and the exterior that took countless hours to clean and restore.
Overcoming the destruction of the fire is a daunting task, yet two hopeful signs tell us, WE CAN! Emerging from the fire is the Infant King on the High Altar, still with his hand raised in blessing, and still radiant with a countenance of hope and compassion. Secondly, to be in Chicago is to be reminded always of the Windy City’s indomitable spirit of a phoenix-like rising from the ashes.
This church has an aura of hope. The Canons and staff at the Shrine are fully committed to carry on the work of restoration, in spite of the devastating fire.
Please donate and help restore this Chicago church; help it rise again, for the sake of the children, the families, and the neighborhood.
- Yu Ling Underwood
- Denni Godber
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