Denver, Colo., Apr 20, 2019 / 03:00 am (CNA).- Twenty years ago, two teenagers opened gunfire outside Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.
Their massacre was premeditated and devastating; the boys also unsuccessfully planned to bomb the school with homemade explosives. They murdered 13 and wounded more than 20 others; finally they shot and killed themselves.
Twelve students and one teacher died the morning of April 20, 1999. The victims included at least four Catholics.
It was the most devastating school shooting in the United States up to that point, and would remain so until April 2007 when a gunman killed 32 people and himself at Virginia Tech.
Archbishop Charles Chaput, now of Philadelphia, was the shepherd of Denver at the time. More than 1,000 mourners turned out for the first three students’ funerals, over which Chaput presided.
“[Chaput] was very prompt in understanding the need to get to the scene and get to the families, the Catholic families, to provide them with support,” Francis Maier, who was archdiocesan chancellor and special assistant to the archbishop at the time, told CNA in an interview.
The massacre happened at a time when school shootings were relatively rare, Maier emphasized. Columbine is in an upscale neighborhood, he noted, and it was a place where no one anticipated something like that could happen.
Maier said both secular and Church officials responded well when the shooting happened, but there were some moments at the beginning when people asked: “What do we do? How do we respond?”
“[Chaput] was engaged immediately. [The shooting] caught everyone by surprise, obviously, but he responded very promptly.”
The archbishop stayed in touch with the parents of at least one of the victims for years afterward, thanks to the relationship forged in the immediate aftermath of the attack. Maier said he thought the archbishop was prepared by having been a pastor in the diocese before he was its archbishop, which he had been for 2 years in 1999.
“He had a long-lasting linkage to the event and the families that were involved,” Maier said.
Maier said after the tragedy the Church was often asked how the shooting could be reconciled with the idea of a good and merciful God, and how the perpetrators— two kids— could do something like that?
“Delivering that message of God’s presence and God’s continuing love, obviously, was the archbishop’s task,” Maier said.
“And in the funeral homilies that he preached, the counseling he gave to the families— a lot of counseling in a situation like this is just being present. Because what are you gonna say, you know? You can’t say ‘I know how you feel?’ because you don’t. And I think the archbishop understood that his presence and the presence that it represented as the Church’s concern.”
The Columbine shooting prompted a national conversation about gun control and school safety.
Chaput testified before the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on May 4, 1999. He addressed violence in media and popular culture— a widely-discussed topic in the wake of the shootings.
“The reasonable person understands that what we eat, drink, and breathe will make us healthy or sick. In like manner, what we hear and what we see lifts us up or drags us down. It forms us inside,” Chaput told the committee.
He noted that “The Matrix,” a film in theaters at that time hugely popular with teenagers, featured a great deal of firearm violence. Chaput wondered if the shooters had seen the film; and if so, he mused that “it certainly didn’t deter them” from committing their violent act.
“People of religious faith have been involved in music, art, literature, and architecture for thousands of years, because we know from experience that these things shape the soul, and through the soul, they shape behavior,” Chaput said.
“Common sense tells us that the violence of our music, our video games, our films, and our television has to go somewhere. It goes straight into the hearts of our children, to bear fruit in ways we cannot imagine until something like [Columbine] happens.”
Chaput emphasized his view that tragedies like Columbine emerge out of a culture in which people are not being taught to value human life.
“When we build our advertising campaigns on consumer selfishness and greed, and when money becomes our universal measure of value, how can we be surprised when our sense of community erodes?” he wondered.
“When we multiply and glorify guns, are we surprised when kids use them? When we answer murder with more violence in the death penalty, we put the State’s seal of approval on revenge.”
“When the most dangerous place in the country is a mother’s womb, and the unborn child can have his or her head crushed in an abortion, even in the process of being born, the body language of that message is that life is not sacred and may not be worth much at all.”
Maier agreed with Chaput’s diagnosis of the problem.
“Young people are not being formed properly in the dignity of life, and older people, adults, are deeply into self-satisfaction and license.”
“The disease needs to be addressed, not the symptoms,” he said.
“Fixing it is not going to be removing one particular way of committing an evil act. People will find other means to do those things if they are committed to doing evil things. So I think the underlying culture that produces Columbine is still with us, and, if anything, it’s worse.”
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Vatican City, Apr 19, 2019 / 10:00 am (CNA).- At the Vatican’s Good Friday service, the papal preacher connected Christ’s Passion with all in history who have suffered the degradation of their human dignity, highlighting in particular the experience of African-American slaves.
“The final word is not and never will be injustice and oppression. Jesus not only restored dignity to the disinherited of the world, he also gave them hope,” papal preacher Father Raniero Cantalamessa said in his homily in St. Peter’s Basilica April 19.
“We can say to the poor, the outcasts, those who are trapped in different forms of slavery still occurring in our society: Easter is your feast,” he said.
Reflecting on the rejection and hatred experienced by the “suffering servant” described by the Jewish prophet Isaiah, Cantalamessa said “the Crucified One” is a “prototype and representative of all the rejected, the disinherited, and the ‘discarded’ of the earth.”
“The African-American writer and theologian Howard Thurman—the man Martin Luther King considered his teacher and his inspiration for the non-violent struggle for human rights—wrote a book called ‘Jesus and the Disinherited.’ In it he shows what the figure of Jesus represented for the slaves in the south,” Cantalamessa said.
“When the slaves were deprived of every right and completely abject, the words of the Gospel that the minister would repeat in their segregated worship — the only meeting they were allowed to have— would give the slaves back a sense of their dignity as children of God,” he continued.
Howard Thurman, 1899-1981, was a Protestant minister and civil rights leader, who helped to found the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, one of the first interracial and interdenominational churches in the United States in 1944.
The papal preacher continued, “The majority of Negro Spirituals that still move the world today arose in this context. At the time of public auction, slaves experienced the anguish of seeing wives separated from their husbands and children from their parents, being sold at times to different masters. It is easy to imagine the spirit with which they sang out in the sun or inside their huts, ‘Nobody knows the trouble I have seen. Nobody knows, but Jesus.’”
Fr. Cantalamessa, a Capuchin friar, has been the official papal preacher since he was appointed to the role by Pope St. John Paul II in 1980. He offers meditations to the pope and members of the Curia on Fridays during Advent and Lent, and he preaches the homily for the Good Friday veneration liturgy.
Pope Francis presided over the liturgy of the Lord’s Passion and prostrated himself before the altar in St. Peter’s Basilica at the beginning of the Good Friday service.
After St. John’s Gospel was chanted in Latin, Fr. Cantelamessa said in his homily, “the Church has received the mandate from its founder to stand with the poor and the weak, to be voice for those who have no voice.”
He continued, “the second historical task that religions need to take on together today, besides promoting peace, is not to remain silent in the face of the situation that is there for everyone to see. A few privileged people possess more goods than they could ever consume, while for entire centuries countless masses of poor people have lived without having a piece of bread or a sip of water to give their children.”
“No religion can remain indifferent to this because the God of all the religions is not indifferent to all of this,” Cantalamessa said.
The papal preacher said that Jesus on the cross “becomes a symbol” for the “part of humanity that is humiliated and insulted.”
He noted that “the most profound meaning” of the passion and death of Christ “is not social but spiritual and mystical.”
“‘Ecce homo!’ ‘Here is the man!’ exclaims Pilate … These are words which, after Christ, can be said of the endless host of men and women who are vilified, reduced to being objects, deprived of all human dignity,” Cantalamessa explained.
“One would want to exclaim, ‘You who are rejected, spurned, pariahs of the whole earth: the greatest man in history was one of you! Whatever nation, race, or religion you belong to, you have the right to claim him as yours,’” he said.
Paris, France, Apr 19, 2019 / 08:02 am (CNA).- After a massive fire gutted the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris April 15, the cathedral’s rector says a temporary wooden church might soon be constructed in the esplanade, or plaza, adjacent to the cathedral.
Monsignor Patrick Chauvet told France’s CNews April 18 that he was exploring plans to build an “ephemeral cathedral” adjacent to Notre Dame, where cleanup and construction are expected to begin soon.
Mass would be celebrated and confessions offered at the temporary structure, Chauvet suggested, adding that Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo is a supporter of the idea.
“We mustn’t say ‘the cathedral is closed for five years’ and that’s it,” Chauvet said Thursday.
There is no formal estimate yet for how long the cathedral restoration will take. While France’s President Emmanuel Macron has said that he would like to see restoration completed within five years, experts say that possibility is extremely unlikely.
Nearly one billion euro have been pledged to the restoration effort.
While the images of the cathedral’ exterior suggested nearly total devastation after the fire, inside the cathedral’s vaulted stone ceiling mostly held, and protected many of the cathedral’s religious and historical treasures from the flames.
The cathedral’s famed rose windows, its bell towers and massive bells, and its organ were all intact after the fire. The Church’s most important religious items were spared from the fire: the Eucharist, and relics of Christ’s crown of thorns and cross were saved during the fire.
Chicago, Ill., Apr 19, 2019 / 06:01 am (CNA).- A pro-life group is coordinating ecumenical Good Friday services and Ways of the Cross outside of abortion clinics in more than 30 states, saying it is a fitting time to pray for unborn victims, their mothers, and clinic workers affected by abortion.
“There’s no better day to remember the victims of abortion than Good Friday, when we remember the suffering and execution of Jesus Christ, an innocent man who preached the value of every single human life,” Eric Scheidler, director of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League, said April 17.
Pro-life Christians have scheduled Way of the Cross services outside nearly 100 abortion clinics in more than 30 states, according to the Pro-Life Action League. It lists locations of these services on its website.
The league has coordinated the Good Friday prayer services since 2014 and expects thousands to attend this year. The group’s website includes a guide on how to host a Way of the Cross for Victims of Abortion, aiming for a broad Christian audience.
“Though the devotion of the Stations of the Cross has Catholic roots, the service we conduct is completely ecumenical,” the guide says. “People of every denomination join us each year and there is no material in the book that would be offensive to non-Catholics.”
The Pro-Life Action League asks participating groups to report the time, date and location of their services for listing on the league’s website.
“As a society, we’ve become increasingly sensitive to the victims of injustice, and that’s to our credit,” said Scheidler. “But we forget about the victims of abortion, starting with the more than 60 million unborn children who have lost their lives to legal abortion in the United States since 1973.”
The millions of women who regret their abortions are also victimized, he said, as are some abortion clinic staff. He charged that abortion provider Planned Parenthood exploited sincere desires to help women, as with former clinic director Abby Johnson whose story is depicted in the movie “Unplanned.”
The Pro-Life Action League was founded by Joe Scheidler in 1980. Its activities include public protest, sidewalk counseling, and youth outreach.