WEST, Texas -- During a typical month in West, St. Mary's Church of the Assumption handles a handful of funerals, according to Deacon Ronnie Sykora.

During the past two weeks, they hosted 10 for the first responders that tragically died when the fertilizer chemical facility exploded on April 17.

One day after the other, Sykora said. It has been difficult.

But church staff has rallied together in an effort to provide the families of those killed - and the larger community - a place to mourn and start down the long road to recovery.

We wanted to take them in spiritually and emotionally, and take care of their needs in their hearts, Sykora said.

Boniface Onjefu, the church's associate pastor, rushed to help that Wednesday night three weeks ago when he heard the explosion. Having spent the majority of his life living and preaching in Nigeria, he instantly thought of a war zone when he saw all of the destruction.

When it happened here, I knew people would find it difficult, he said. They aren't used to living in war or disaster.

Over the past few emotional weeks, Onjefu has drawn on his experiences from Africa to help the St. Mary's parish by preaching about strength and coming together.

But dealing with specific ties to the church has been difficult.

Church secretary Carolyn Pustejovsky lost her son, Joey, in the blast. He was a longtime parishioner, the town's secretary, and a volunteer firefighter.

On another day, there was a service for two brothers who Boniface said were regulars at St. Mary's, Doug and Bob Snokhous.

I think in the end, we will pull through, he said.

The church is also providing counseling for many parishioners.

This Saturday, 70 third graders are expected to take their first communion.


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