London parish gives sanctuary to 27 guests after building collapse

 Late last night, Holy Apostles parish in Pimlico, central London, gave sanctuary to 27 guests from a nearby hotel, after a building collapse forced authorities to evacuate them from their rooms. The top two storeys of a building in Dean Farrar Street, close to the hotel, fell on to the third floor yesterday afternoon, trapping a man inside for several hours. He has since been rescued. Guests, mostly American and Australian tourists, at the Sanctuary House Hotel in Tothill Street, were taken to Holy Apostles Church in Cumberland Street after Westminster City Council became concerned about the stability of other buildings in the area. WRVS volunteers from Holy Apostles were called to help at midnight and the parish hall was quickly converted into a sleep-over centre. The parish was able to offer them a bed for the night, a late supper and early breakfast, before the authorities arranged for them all to go back to the hotel under police protection to collect their luggage. Canon Pat Browne, the parish priest accompanied them. When they entered the evacuated hotel, it was, he said, "very eerie - half eaten meals stood there abandoned, the television was still on in the bar. And looking out the window one saw the debris that had collapsed into the street crushing the motorbikes parked below. It is a miracle no one was killed." "Our guests" said Father Pat, "were most grateful and impressed that the Church was there to help when they most needed it". Patty and David Fesette, from New Hampshire in the USA had only been in England for two days. When they were evacuated from the hotel, initially they waited on the steps of Westminster Abbey before they were escorted to Holy Apostles. Mrs Fesette praised everyone at Holy Apostles who made them feel so welcome. She said: "We were so tired and glad to have somewhere to sleep. Everyone's been wonderful. We were both really impressed." Just last week, Canon Browne, who is also Dean of Westminster, attended a conference to plan how the three London dioceses could respond to emergencies. Two years ago they carried out an audit of parish properties to assess their capacities for coping with major incidents. Edmund Adamus, Director of the Department for Pastoral Affairs of the Diocese of Westminster, said: "This really is a perfect illustration of how the pastoral care of the Church for the vulnerable in times of crisis comes in to its own. It is a good example of collaboration between Church and civic authorities as envisaged by Gaudium et Spes and more recently in Deus Caritas Est where Pope Benedict says: "the spontaneity of individuals must be combined with planning, foresight and co-operation with other similar institutions" Deus Caritas Est, 31

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