Pope Francis shares in mourning for Des Plaines mother, 4 daughters killed in fire
In a year marked by worldwide suffering due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a Des Plaines family's inconceivable loss has struck a chord far and wide, prompting even Pope Francis to take part in the mourning.
The pope's message of comfort came through Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, who alongside the Rev. Esequiel Sanchez presided Wednesday morning over the funeral Mass for a mother and four young daughters killed in a Jan. 27 fire at their Des Plaines home.
Cithlaly Zamudio, 25, and her children, Grace Espinosa, 1, Allison Espinosa, 3, Genesis Espinosa, 5, and Renata Espinosa, 6, lost their lives. Their five white, gold-rimmed caskets stood Wednesday morning at the front of the Chapel of St. Joseph on the grounds of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines.
Cupich said that when he visited Pope Francis two weeks ago in Rome, the pope gave him rosaries for the grieving family.
"He would like me to make sure the family receives them as a way of showing his closeness to you. He would ask that you pray for him because he also takes on himself the sufferings of the world. Your suffering," Cupich said, before handing the rosaries to Juan Manuel Espinosa, the girls' father and husband of Zamudio, and other relatives.
About 100 mourners, all wearing masks, attended the funeral in person at the church, whose capacity is about 1,100 and whose attendants took temperatures and offered hand sanitizer. Hundreds more watched online on YouTube and the church's website, many tuning in from the Mexican state of Guanajuato. Zamudio's parents and sister traveled from there to Des Plaines to attend the funeral.
The local community of immigrants from Guanajuato has been shaken by the tragedy, said Mario Nuñez of Chicago, who attended the funeral with his sister and cousin. He didn't know the Espinosa and Zamudio families, he said, but works with many people from Guanajuato.
"We wanted to give our support and our heartfelt condolences," Nuñez said. "This goes to show how this can happen to anyone. In a few minutes, in an instant, tragedy can strike."
The fire might have been sparked by an electric space heater and the investigation is ongoing, officials said. Zamudio was pronounced dead at the scene while her daughters were taken to Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge.
The hospital's emergency room workers desperately tried to save the children's lives, said ER technicians Meg Haynes and Pola Marquez, who attended the funeral.
"It was a horrible day. You could hear a pin drop," Haynes said Wednesday with tears in her eyes. "We wanted to pay our respects today."
Rev. Sanchez said Espinosa brought his family to the United States so he could work hard and build a new life for them. He and his wife wanted to give greater opportunities to their girls, so they could go to college and get ahead in life, he said.
"What can you say to a family that has suffered such tragedy? What words of consolation can we say to take their pain away? Really, it can't be done," Sanchez said.
Later, Sanchez exhorted the survivors to keep going.
"We have to walk in this world with faith and desire to live. This is hard, but your faith will reunite you with them," he said. "Love is the only thing you can take with you in the presence of God. You will never lose that."
The family declined to speak with the media Wednesday.
Zamudio and her four daughters were buried together at All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines. White balloons were released into the pale gray sky in their memory.
• Daily Herald staff photographer Mark Welsh contributed to this report.