HOBOKEN, N.J. (RNS) In the basement of Hoboken Gospel Chapel three blocks from the train terminal, about a dozen church members sat at long tables, eyes closed, heads bowed, hands folded over their open Bibles, giving thanks to God and praying for the victims of Thursday’s (Sept 29) commuter rail crash.
“We know that even when there are tragedies, there is always good. And even when there are accidents, there are always things to be thankful for,” prayed church elder Brian Hoffert hours after the crash.
As investigators look into what caused the New Jersey Transit’s Pascack Valley commuter train to enter the station at high speed on Thursday, some residents of this New York suburb ponder what role God and fate play in such tragedies.
Gospel Chapel member Richard Pasquale said that while one woman was killed and more than 100 people were injured, the fact that there weren’t more fatalities was a sign of God at work.
“It’s all God’s grace,” he said. “While he allows tragedies to happen, ultimately it’s his grace, that allows us to come through it.”
Moshe Shapiro, a Chabad rabbi who is a chaplain with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, believes God was present.
“It is very, very, very tragic that a woman died,” he said. “But I’ve been at the train station and thirty people are at that same spot on other days.
“One death is one too many but just to look at how a train stops and a few hundred people get off, and sometimes a few at one time go left to the Path (commuter trains), others go right to the light rail. It could have been so much worse.”
But others viewed things differently.
Near the station, Brianna Stimpson and her boyfriend embraced on the sidewalk in front of where they live.
“After things like this happen people tend to frequently say ‘thank God’ for controlling things,” she said. “But then you find out after accidents like this, oh, it’s actually the guy who stays awake while driving, that saves you. And it’s the people who keep your heat on, your lights on, who get you safely across the street, it’s some guy who you find out is 10 miles away from you, but who’s been keeping you safe all along and you never said thank you, because you didn’t even know he was doing things to keep you safe.”
Stimpson said those people should get the credit.
“You know how much love and kindness there would be in the world, if every time someone said ‘thank you God,’ they also always said thank you to everyone around them? I mean, think about it,” she said.
Like many New York area residents, Hobokenites have been thinking a lot about fate since the Sept. 11 attacks.
Commuter Jean O’Reilly said she could have had the same end as Fabiola de Kroon, 34, who died in the crash.
“I walked that same pathway as Fabiola, just about an hour and a half earlier than her today,” she said. “Everyday I walk down Washington Street, then there’s a path along the river, where there are always police along the river with guns — at the ready for terrorism. You get used to seeing that. Then this happens.”
Michael Scelzo of Oradell, N.J., was in the first car and watched beams come into the train and the first rows collapse in front of him.
“Running through my mind was, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to make it out of this,'” said Scelzo, who has a big bruise and a dried gash under his eye. “I’m a Catholic, not a practicing Catholic. I’m very practical. I do believe in God and in fate and it could have been so much worse.
“I’m not sure what the reason for this is,” he went on. “I will say I truly came out of this appreciating life more today than yesterday. I’m more aware of my surroundings and more thankful for things I would not otherwise have noticed. It was an accident and life happens and I’m thankful.”