On the first anniversary of the devastating Grenfell tower fire that killed 72 people, Cardinal Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, called for prayers for all who had been involved in the “unforgettable disaster”.
Cardinal Nichols tweeted on 14 June, one year on from the most deadly domestic fire since the Second World War: “We pray for all who have been caught up in this unforgettable disaster. We pray especially for those who have died. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace.”
A day earlier, at a Mass held at the Parish of St Francis of Assisi, Notting Hill, Cardinal Nichols, prayed for the repose of the souls of all who died and for the healing and peace of all who survived.
Present at the Mass were the families of many of the victims and other former residents of the Tower. Also present with the parish community were some of the hundreds of volunteers who assisted at St Francis in the immediate aftermath of the fire last year. They were joined by ecumenical guests Rev Dr Alan Everett from St Clement's and St James' Anglican Church and Rev Dr Mike Long from Notting Hill Methodist Church.
In his homily, the Cardinal spoke of listening as a pathway to the heart: "Day by day, at present, we hear stories of those whose lives were changed forever by this fire. We listen to their accounts and their emotions, and our hearts almost stop beating, such is the immensity of what happened."
Reflecting on prayer as another pathway to the heart, he added: "This prayer, our prayer this evening, takes us to the very heart of the mystery of our living and dying…It is this pathway of prayer, which we take again this evening, to equip us to live together even through the worst of times, as has been shown in this parish, in this neighbourhood, in the very worst of those times."
After the Mass, the Cardinal and the congregation gathered in the courtyard outside the church where Fr Gerard Skinner, the Parish Priest of St Francis, together with Imam Fahim Mazary from the Al-Manaar Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre and Yusuf Al-Khoei from the Al-Khoei Foundation read out the names of all who died due to the fire at Grenfell Tower, followed by 72 seconds of silence.
After the silence the Cardinal blessed a plaque and a statue that commemorate the 15 children, women and men of the parish who died at Grenfell Tower.
Grenfell tower, along with 12 other blocks and Downing Street, were lit green at 00.54 on Wednesday, the time that what started as a small kitchen fire in a flat was first reported on 14 June 2017.
The nearby St Clement’s Church began a 24-hour silent vigil, where the only words spoken were the Lord’s Prayer, read each hour.
At 11am on Thursday a service of commemoration was held at St Helen’s, an Anglican church in North Kensington.
Graham Tomlin, the Anglican bishop of Kensington, told the congregation that the anniversary was a day of “painful memories, a day we remember those 72 precious lives lost”.
It was also “a day for justice, as we pledge ourselves again to the slow, patient search for truth and justice for those who lost their lives, and a day for peace,” he said.
Grenfell Tower was “a symbol of pain and loss and a symbol of our failure to care for one another” but it could also become “a symbol of change and renewal” he said.
Following the service, 73 doves were released outside the church, one for each life lost plus one to represent fears that there may have been other people who died in the fire and who remain unidentified.
A second 72-second silence was held at Midday. It was observed by MPs in Westminster; the Queen – dressed in green in remembrance of the victims - and the Duchess of Sussex on a visit to Chester; the England football team in Russia and in the headquarters of the London fire brigade.
Police believe over 5,000 people attended a silent walk later on Thursday beginning at the tower, where people dressed in green and held up banners and pictures of loved ones.
At a Mass last year held days after the tragedy Cardinal Nichols stressed the vital importance of prayer at a time of “overwhelming tragedy”. The cardinal said that the cry of Jesus on the cross of ‘Why have you abandoned me?’ was echoed in the Grenfell tower fire.
“No one is pretending there is recovery from such loss in this life,” the cardinal said. “There isn't.” But he said there was a way to share the burden of grief. “God invites us to empty our hearts before him. When we do that we find our poise and know how to stand up.”
On Monday, writing in the Evening Standard, Theresa May admitted her initial response to the fire was not good enough and that she “will always regret” not meeting survivors when she visited the site.
“But the residents of Grenfell Tower needed to know that those in power recognised and understood their despair. And I will always regret that by not meeting them that day – it seemed as though I didn’t care. That was never the case,” she wrote.