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East Bay Irish Priest Details Heartbreak As He Comforts Friends of Victims In Berkeley Balcony Collapse

BERKELEY (KCBS) - There will be a special memorial mass on Wednesday night at the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, for the six people who died and seven surviving victims of the Berkeley balcony collapse.

Father Aidan McAleenan of St. Columba Catholic Church in Oakland will be the homilist at the mass.

He spent the initial hours after the tragedy comforting victims and their friends at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, one of three trauma centers treating patients.

"I felt very helpless, I must admit, telling one young man that his best friend had just died. And they already knew five had died," McAleenan said. "Just the look on his face, then he just collapsed into my arms. You just stand there and cry with them. You put your arms around them because no words are appropriate really."

Some of the families of those killed and injured have already arrived in the Bay Area, and many others are expected on Wednesday. Father McAleenan said as in all tragedies, you have to lean on the strongest aspects of your life to get you through. "The community, by family, and by faith and tradition."

He said he is especially concerned about those who witnessed the tragedy and may be mentally and emotionally scarred.

"It will be hard when the flashbacks [hit]. One young man said he just looked out and the bodies were just lying on the street and it was just disbelief," McAleenan said. "How do you get that image out of your head?"

The memorial mass is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. at the Cathedral of the Christ the Light, which is located at 2121 Harrison St. in Oakland.

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