Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 25, 2022 / 16:30 pm (CNA).
The local Catholic community is ministering to the victims of the mass shooting at a Texas elementary school. The Archbishop of San Antonio, along with priests in that archdiocese, sprang into action as soon as they learned of the tragedy.
“We’re inviting people just to pray that love will prevail — that the love of God through us will prevail,” Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller told CNA.
García-Siller visited the hospital and the civic center in Uvalde, where the families of missing children gathered, on Tuesday. That evening, he celebrated Mass at the city’s Catholic church, Sacred Heart.
Several of the victims and their families belonged to the Sacred Heart community, he told CNA, including two adults who were killed. Many involved in responding to the shooting attended the Mass: the person who dialed 911 from the school, the person who drove the children to the hospital, and a person who was tasked with taking photos of the victims’ bodies.
Their response came after a gunman killed at least 19 children and two adults at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, located about 90 miles west of San Antonio. The incident is reported to be the worst school shooting since the 2012 attack at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, in which in the attacker killed 26.
The two adults have been identified as 4th-grade teachers: 46-year-old Irma Garcia, a mother of four, and 44-year-old Eva Mireles, a mother of one. News outlets such as NBC News reported their relatives as saying that the two died while trying to protect their students.
“I was able to meet the husband of one of the teachers who was killed, and the two daughters and son,” García-Siller said of Irma Garcia’s family.
He met with them at the SSGT Willie de Leon Civic Center, as they waited to hear what had happened to the wife and mother.
“The husband showed a lot of strength,” he told CNA. The three teenaged children, he said, were devastated.
García-Siller described the other families at the center as very quiet, with some crying. He called the mood “very somber,” with everyone silently sitting on their own without engaging with one another.
“So I asked them what we were able to do for them” and what they needed, García-Siller said. The only consistent request he received was for prayers and, in particular, “to pray for my child.”
García-Siller described Uvalde as a tight-knit community, including a large Catholic community. He credited Sacred Heart for organizing the Tuesday Mass and setting up “the vision for how we can be of use, how we can be of help, to the larger community.”
“We have, already since [Tuesday], deacons, permanent deacons, priests, nuns, lay people, available for prayer, for counseling,” he told CNA, “which was the main thing the families directly affected asked for.”
“It’s a lot of pain,” García-Siller described. “It’s just hard to communicate, or articulate the situation.”
“Today we’re going back,” García-Siller told CNA on Wednesday. “We’re driving back to Uvalde to be at the school where the shooting took place, at the civic center, at the hospital, and the parish.”
He will be present to say Mass and “to be all day with the people.”
Catholic Charities, García-Siller added, is providing counseling. And, he added, “We are opening an account to invite people to provide funds for all the funerals” and whatever the victims’ families need, including traveling expenses, lodging, food, and legal assistance. The archdiocese’s Catholic Charities has opened an Uvalde Relief fund to aid those affected by the shooting.
The Bishop of Piedras Negras, located in Mexico near the border, will also travel to Uvalde. The two cities are connected, García-Siller said, since many of the people in Uvalde originally came from that city.
The archbishop has also engaged teams of prayer. Before he drove Uvalde on Tuesday, he contacted prayer teams in San Antonio — teams that he calls from his office any time he has a need.
He revealed to CNA how he, personally, is dealing with the response.
“You know that you are tired, but you don’t recognize it because you’re on the move,” he described. “I feel OK. As I said, this is a very community effort and so I don’t feel in any way alone.”
A meaningful Mass
The archbishop told CNA that Catholics and leaders of other religions attended the Tuesday evening Mass at Sacred Heart. The Gospel, he said, told the story of when the disciples discouraged little children from approaching Christ.
Christ responded by saying, “Let the children come to me,” García-Siller recalled, as the Kingdom of God belongs to them and people like them.
He stressed the importance of the Mass and “to at least to know what we’re doing, why we are doing it, having very clearly the presence of these families before us and knowing that our God will intervene and that God is present.”
Catholic priests take action
Father Jaime Paniagua from Del Rio and Father Matthew De León from Sabinal concelebrated the Mass at Sacred Heart, Aleteia reported. Like García-Siller, both Paniagua and De León traveled to a hospital in Uvalde and the civic center.
They stayed at the hospital for hours, Paniagua said in a video shared by reporter Ashlee Burns of Caller.com and USA Today.
“We talked to the authorities, we talked to the staff, doctors, nurses. And we were able to visit at the ER with some of the wounded, with the families, with the kids,” he said. “In some of the cases, the parents hadn’t arrived yet. So we were there in the ER rooms with the doctor and the kid, and praying with them.”
“We were present there as well when several families received the news of their kids being deceased,” he added, “being able to pray there for them.”
The victims Paniagua met with included a Border Patrol agent grazed by a bullet, a girl with a gunshot wound, and a girl whose face was injured from fragments, the Washington Post reported.
“She was very talkative, describing what happened, step by step,” Paniagua said. “When the shooting was happening, she held another girl’s hand, and they were screaming. Their teacher protected them, and they saw the teacher get shot.”
The priest said that he asked each injured child he enountered how they were doing and if they wanted to pray with him.
“I experienced powerlessness, being there for six hours,” he said. “But God is almighty.”
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