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At a church near condo collapse, community gathers to pray for those missing

“Be strong in your faith and don’t question why it happened,” said Deacon John Ermer of St. Joseph Catholic Church.

SURFSIDE, Fla. — Parishioners shouldn’t question God and instead should pray for those missing in the condo building collapse, a deacon at a church just blocks from where the tower came down said Saturday.

“A lot of people ask, how can God let something Iike this happen?” Deacon John Ermer said during a Saturday evening service at St. Joseph Catholic Church.

“Those people who are asking why it happened are the ones I’m most concerned about," he continued. "It shows you that our faith has fallen into question and is being challenged.”

Church officials said 12 members were affected by Thursday’s collapse, and only three have been accounted for. Overall, at least five people have been confirmed dead and 156 remained unaccounted for, officials said Saturday.

“Be strong in your faith and don’t question why it happened,” Ermer said from the pulpit in front of about 60 parishioners. “Instead, turn to the grace of God’s love and let him heal us so that maybe in a few years, weeks, months (or) decades we’ll see the good that comes out of this tragedy.”

St. Joseph Catholic Church in Surfside, Florida, near where a condominium tower collapsed.Deon J. Hampton / NBC News

Jorge Sanchez, youth coordinator of 212 Youth On Fire, a community group that was looking to uplift with prayer and meditation, attended a vigil for the missing Saturday night after the one-hour service.

“It’s a place where people can be hopeful and not feel alone,” said Sanchez. “But now, after a few days of reflecting, people are coming together.”

Valerie Montugut, 24, who lives in Miami, came out to encourage fellow residents.

“We wanted to pray and support,” she said.

During the church service, Ermer told congregants that life doesn't end with death and that through faith, everyone will one day be united.

“Nobody lost their life in this tragedy, their lives have changed,” Ermer said. “We cannot comprehend why this happened although many may want to.”

He said that during a time of need 11 years ago, someone recommended he read the book of Job from the Bible about a man who dealt with great suffering.

“God allows the church to be challenged, especially in difficult times,” he said. “We need to pray for them harder.”

He concluded by reiterating his overall point.

“Don’t question your faith, and pray for those who have suffered a tremendous loss,” Ermer said.