Photojournalist is mourned at NYC church service

By Verena Dobnik

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, April 27 2011 7:05 p.m. MDT

In this photo provided by Getty Images, pallbearers carry Chris Hondros' casket out of Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary - Saint Stephen Roman Catholic Church in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Wednesday, April 27, 2011. Hondros, 41, was killed April 20, 2011, while on assignment for Getty in Misrata, Libya.

Getty Images, Jeff Zelevansky, Associated Press

NEW YORK — A New York photographer killed in Libya used his lens as his "heart" — to speak for war-ravaged people desperate to be heard by the world, said the priest who celebrated a Mass for him Wednesday.

Chris Hondros, who was fatally wounded by mortar fire last week, "spoke for the broken-hearted and the suffering," the Rev. Anthony Sansone told more than 1,000 mourners who packed a Brooklyn church. "Chris' final act was to tell the story of those who were not listened to by anyone else."

Minutes before he was struck during house-to-house fighting between rebels and Libyan troops in Misrata, Hondros shot a series of photos for Getty Images. Some are close-ups of a flame-engulfed room where rebels had rolled a burning tire to oust strongman Moammar Gadhafi's soldiers — with machine-guns ablaze down stairwells and around corners.

Photography, Sansone said in his homily, was at "the heart of his conscience."

Hondros succumbed to head injuries at a local hospital. He was 41.

Photographer-filmmaker Tim Hetherington was killed in Misrata the same day, and two other photojournalists were severely injured.

Just weeks ago in Brooklyn, where Hondros lived, the priest was preparing for the August wedding of the photographer and his fiancee — which was to be held at the same spring flower-graced altar facing Hondros' casket on Wednesday, draped in a simple white cloth for the nearly two-hour Roman Catholic rite.

The service at Sacred Heart & St. Stephens Church included long stretches of music — by Bach, Schubert, Mahler — featuring artists he had chosen to play for presentations of his images that he called "Sound + Vision: At War."

Mourners came from as far away as Singapore, including Pulitzer-prize-winning photographers and photo editors from major media outlets — many weeping openly in the pews and on the sidewalk in front of the church in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood.

Greg Campbell, Hondros' best friend from high school in Fayetteville, N.C., said he worked alongside the photographer — writing for USA Today — on the front lines in Benghazi, Libya, one week before Hondros' death.

Once back in the United States, "I got emails from Chris hours before he died," a bereaved Campbell said after the service.

He delivered one of four tributes from the altar, calling his friend "an extraordinary person who touched so many" — including those who sent several hundred messages from two dozen countries.

Campbell said he had traveled with Hondros on news stories from Kosovo to Nigeria and Sierra Leone. And when the writer got anxious working in tense situations, he said the photographer would advise him to "take a deep breath, keep it simple, take it step by step."

Hondros was looking forward to starting a family, Campbell said. "He spoke nonstop about Christine" Piaia, his fiancee, "and he told me how excited he was to find his soulmate and lifelong companion."

Piaia told those gathered that he "wanted to invite the world" to their wedding.

"Here we are now," she said wistfully, "every seat taken."

Organist Jim Lake added later, "I wish I could have played their wedding music."

Before leaving the church, Hondros' brother, Dean, and their mother, Inge, walked past a display of his photos set up on easels at the back of the church. Some depicted human faces amid the violence of war, twisted into extreme pain.

The photographer's mission, the priest said, "was to tell the truth, to tell the story of those who suffer, who are dismantled and in need" so the world "would do something about it."

A funeral for Hondros will be held Saturday in Fayetteville, where he was raised.

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