Amid the horror and chaos of the Aug. 17 terrorist attack in Barcelona, more than 800 people found shelter in the Basilica of Santa Maria del Pi. The Gothic church, situated in the historic center of Barcelona, is next to one of the streets exiting Las Ramblas, the popular tourist area where a van plowed into a crowd on Aug. 17, killing 13 people and injuring more than 100.
Jordi Sacasas, the basilica's archivist, told CNA that he was with the church sacristan and several other people in the basilica archives when the attack took place. From the balcony of the archives, they could see people stampeding. “When we saw this, we went down to the church doors and brought in those fleeing. Police orders were for people to take shelter, and as the basilica has a large entrance, we could offer shelter to a lot of people,” he said.
Once the doors were closed, the basilica employees worked to calm the terrified masses. “We were providing information in French, English and Italian over the church's sound system, since the majority of the people were tourists and we had a person who could speak several languages…We were providing information that the regional government and the police were sending us, so there would be clear information.”
Local businesses also showed their solidarity with those taking refuge inside the church, offering food and drink during the three-hour lockdown before the police allowed people to leave the area. “One bakery almost emptied its shelves bringing us bread, sandwiches. A cafe brought us water. What was impressive and so moving was the solidarity of people in such dramatic moments,” Sacasas said.
Church employees also worked to help those who were injured from falling in the stampede that resulted from the attack. “We cared for the injured who were hurt as they fled, especially the older people, because the emergency services were overwhelmed with more serious injuries,” he said.
The Basilica of Santa Maria del Pi, built in the 14th century, has a long history of welcoming those in need. It has previously opened its doors to immigrants, offering them use of its facilities.
ISIS has claimed responsibility for the Aug. 17 attack. Police said they had shot and killed the suspected driver of the van, while also arresting several other individuals believed to be possibly involved in a local terror ring. One of those arrested said that the larger plot had involved the bombing of several major monuments, including the iconic Sagrada Familia basilica.