by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
June 5, 2022 – In the darkness which has enveloped Uvalde, Texas since that awful Tuesday, May 24, and which continues to permeate the entire city, one small beacon of light shines. Sacred Heart Catholic Church has been the beating heart – comparison intended – of the Uvalde community.
Instinctively, as news spread of the unspeakable murder of 19 innocent little boys and girls and two of their teachers, the horrified people of the town gathered at Sacred Heart for a community Eucharist. Joining together at their beloved parish to remember the death of the Lord was the one thing they could think to do at such a moment. The next evening, Wednesday, they came again to their spiritual home where children laid 21 roses at the altar. And the next night another rose was added to commemorate Joe Garcia, husband of one of the teachers, who died of a broken heart, the 22nd victim of the shooting.
Through the indescribable pain, confusion and anger in that little town, words of consolation came from Fr. Eduardo Morales, their parish priest, and San Antonio’s Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller who came immediately to mourn with his people. Fr. Morales acknowledged the righteousness of the overwhelming anger welling up in his parishioners’ souls as details of the shooting emerged and the unfathomable delay of the police to stop the carnage. He said: “Do not let anger corrode into hatred.” At the Mass for Jose Garcia and his surviving children, Archbishop Garcia-Siller assured them in simplest terms what Sacred Heart signifies: “We’re a family.”
Pictures of Sacred Heart parishioners also speak to its unity and importance for the people there. Principally Latinos, they filled the pews for the Masses and held on to each other with sorrowful “abrazos.” The devastating feelings of sorrow, confusion, and doubt were shared and, one can only hope, softened by this faith community as they wrapped their arms around each other and wept.
Now the horror of what happened is being relived as their 19 their precious little ones and the three adults are taken to the cemetery one at a time for the next two weeks. One can only imagine the depth of grieving that grips Uvalde as these funeral processions move through their town day after day after day in a seemingly unending line. And Sacred Heart Parish lives in the midst of it all doing what Catholics do best: conducting the rites of commendation for each victim. The pastor will sprinkle holy water on each casket in remembrance of the deceased person’s baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus – too recent a memory for the parents and loved ones of the person being memorialized. The people will hear the familiar scriptural passages: “The souls of the just are in the hands of God”… and “I am going to prepare a place for you and I will come back and take you with me, so that where I am you also may be.” At each graveside the survivors will be reminded of Him who also was buried, and who lives.
We can only pray that the profound pall of suffering in Uvalde will be lifted gradually by the continued pastoral care of their parish priest and the consolation of the Sacred Heart community. We also give thanks for the example of this local parish, remembering that Sacred Heart is part of the institutional Church which we – rightly – criticize so often; and that despite the sins and stupidities of the Church, at its center are communities which give witness to the Risen Christ.
One commentary on this beyond-sad event concluded: “On Sunday President Biden took his seat in the first row. He did not speak. He knelt, made the sign of the cross and prayed along with the rest of the congregation – another soul who walked through the door of Sacred Heart searching for unity and clarity.”
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.
Photo of parishioners at Sacred Heart Church, Uvalde TX, by Kaylee Greenlee Beal, Texas Tribune; used with permission