A church service that remembered the victims of last week’s fire at a Quebec seniors’ residence featured a rocking chair, a shawl, a hat and a bouquet of 32 roses as well as tributes to first responders.
About 900 people packed into L’Isle-Verte’s Saint-Jean-Baptiste Church on Saturday to commemorate the victims. Police have pegged the death toll at 27, with another five still listed as missing.
Local priest Gilles Frigon paid tribute to the deceased as photos of the victims graced the church.
“Nobody deserves to end their days in such a tragic way,” Frigon said in his homily.
“I want to thank all those who have prayed for us all across the country. This has allowed us to open our hearts, to get back up...and to become better men and women.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper attended the hour-long ceremony and spoke to reporters afterwards.
“We’re all here to express all our condolences and our sympathy to the victims, to their families and to the entire community here,” Harper said.
“This is a very beautiful place, but this is a very big tragedy. It’s something that everybody can identify with. We all have, or have had, parents, grandparents who become elderly, who are terribly vulnerable. And when we see something like this, it breaks the heart of everybody.”
Premier Pauline Marois also honoured the victims.
“It’s a magnificent (weather) day,” she said. “I hope that will allow people to find peace again in a community that has suffered so much.
“I feel like telling the community, ‘Look after the people who are still here, who are around you.“’
Pierre-Andre-Fournier, archbishop of Rimouski, hailed the work of first responders, with the presence of an ambulance uniform, a firefighter’s helmet and a police officer’s cap at the front of the church symbolizing their efforts in the wake of the Jan. 23 tragedy.
“It is difficult for you and I to realize what happened and what we’re going through,” Fournier told the congregation.
“Thirty-two members of our Christian community have left us tragically.”
Twenty-four people have been declared dead and eight others are listed as missing.
Robert Berube, whose 99-year-old mother Adrienne Dube is one of the missing, travelled 500 kilometres from Montreal.
“We’re still waiting,” he said before the service. “Every day we hope that she will be found.”
Berube said he can’t go through the mourning process until her body is recovered and added he will stay in L’Isle-Verte as long as it takes.
Others in the church included Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and Lac-Megantic Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche, whose community was devastated last July when a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in the downtown core.
Forty-seven people died in that tragedy.
Marois requested that flags on government buildings fly at half-mast on Saturday.
Authorities have not yet announced the cause of the blaze, which struck at about 12:30 a.m.
Emergency crews continued their search Saturday for the remains of those still missing.
The seniors’ residence had 52 units and many of its occupants had limited mobility, needing wheelchairs or walkers to get around.
Mulcair said he spent Saturday morning meeting with volunteer firefighters and Red Cross workers, including some he had met last summer in Lac-Megantic.
“It’s extraordinary what’s been put in place to help the community because it’s not just the families and the loved ones of the victims that have been affected by this, but a whole community and a whole region,” he said.
“It’s a huge tragedy...and we’ve got to make sure that the aid continues after.”
Trudeau said the fire is further proof of the need to protect the less vulnerable in society, particularly seniors.
“So, to be here with all levels of government, with all different political parties, reinforces the message that we understand that responsibility and it’s also a sense of letting the people here in L’Isle-Verte know that people from across the country are thinking of them,” he said.