WASHINGTON (CNS) — The bishop of El Paso, Texas, met with the families of those who were killed and wounded during the Aug. 3 shooting at a Walmart in the city where he serves, and in a statement following the meeting said his heart “was breaking” after seeing up-close the human aftermath of the crime.
“As a minister I am called to be present to those who suffered this attack and to their families. I need to do so with a sense of composure,” said Bishop Mark J. Seitz in the statement. “But as I visited with victims and those they love, my heart was breaking within me. Their questions are mine as well. Why the innocent children? Why the mothers with babes in their arms? Why should any human being ever be subjected to such violence?”
As of Aug. 7, 22 had died and 26 were injured from what is, so far, the eighth-deadliest mass shooting on U.S. soil.
In various news shows and in his statement, Bishop Seitz concentrated on the example of Jesus as a way out of the divisions that many believe led to the killings.
“Once again in our nation we see the face of evil. We see the effects of a mind possessed by hatred,” he wrote. “We see the effects of the sinful and insipid conviction that some of us are better than others of us because of race, religion, language or nationality.”
‘We have forgotten compassion’
The residents of El Paso, a border city with a long history of brotherhood with neighboring Mexico, has set an example for others to uphold, said the bishop.
“In the last several months, the borderlands have shown the world that generosity, compassion and human dignity are more powerful than the forces of division,” he said in the statement. “The great sickness of our time is that we have forgotten how to be compassionate, generous and humane. Everything is competition. Everything is greed. Everything is cold. Tenderness and the love that knows no borders are crucified in a whirlwind of deadly self-seeking, fear and vindictiveness.”
Because of similar evil forces, God sent Jesus into the world, and when it appeared that evil had won after his crucifixion, Jesus proved otherwise, Bishop Seitz said.
“This is my hope for all who have suffered this violence today and for our community,” he said. “The Christ who suffered is in our midst. He is our companion. We trust he will raise up the fallen, bring healing to the victims and console our broken community.”
El Paso, too, will rise above the “terrible” bloody day, he said, “Today let us mourn the dead and pray for them. Tomorrow let us recommit to love. And let us all brace ourselves for just action that will overcome the forces of division and build a more loving society,” he ended.
‘Spiritually close to victims’
Pope Francis joined Catholic Church leaders expressing sorrow following the El Paso and Dayton shootings.
After praying the Angelus in St Peter’s Square on Aug. 4, the pope said he wanted to convey his spiritual closeness to the victims, the wounded and the families affected by the attacks. He also included those who died a weekend earlier during a shooting at a festival in Gilroy, California.
“I am spiritually close to the victims of the episodes of violence that these days have bloodied Texas, California and Ohio, in the United States, affecting defenseless people,” he said.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, conveyed a personal message from Pope Francis to Bishop Seitz saying the pontiff was “deeply saddened to learn of the tragic shooting” in El Paso. The pontiff assured all those affected by the attack of “his spiritual closeness and “prays that Almighty God may grant eternal rest to the dead and healing and consolation to the wounded and those who grieve.”
“With the hope that harmony and fraternal solidarity may always prevail over violence, Pope Francis invokes upon all of you the divine blessings of peace and strength,” said the cardinal’s message.
‘Hold elected officials accountable’
Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich stressed a commitment to stopping violence in his Aug. 4 statement: “Mass shootings are not an inevitability. All human beings have the right to live without violence. To behave otherwise is to advance a lie.”
He said the Chicago Archdiocese “mourns and prays” for the victims of the shootings in El Paso and Dayton, but it also stands “with their loved ones demanding an end to this deadly status quo.”
The archbishop, who lives in a city that has seen its share of gun violence in recent years, emphasized that an end to such tragedies “begins with holding accountable our elected officials who have done nothing to address gun violence.”
He also said it requires holding others accountable, “including some leaders who fuel these violent acts by dividing humanity through hateful rhetoric. This must stop — along with the silence of our elected officials who have failed to condemn hate speech, for they are the very ones who have sworn to keep our nation safe.”
‘Assault rifles are not birthright’
Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput also spoke from his own experience. In a column posted Aug. 5 for CatholicPhilly.com, the news website of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, he repeated some of his remarks from his testimony 20 years ago before the U.S. Senate about the shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, which at the time was the worst high school shooting in U.S. history.
In his testimony then, he said the problem of violence stems from “a culture that markets violence in dozens of different ways, seven days a week. It’s part of our social fabric.”
He said the recent shootings are “just the latest in a long pattern of mass shootings; shootings that have blood-stained the past two decades with no end in sight.”
Archbishop Chaput also said the “usual aftermath” would soon begin in response to the recent U.S. shootings, which he described as: “expressions of shock; hand-wringing about senseless (or racist, or religious, or political) violence; bitter arguments about gun control; heated editorials, earnest (but brief) self-searching of the national soul; and eventually — we’re on to the next crisis.”
The archbishop said he “saw the human wreckage that gun violence leaves behind” when he sat with parents whose children were killed in the Colorado school shooting. “
That experience taught him, he said, that “assault rifles are not a birthright, and the Second Amendment is not a golden calf.” He added that he supports thorough background checks and more restrictive access to guns but said that wasn’t the only answer.
He said his experience after the Columbine shooting also taught him “that only a fool can believe that ‘gun control’ will solve the problem of mass violence. The people using the guns in these loathsome incidents are moral agents with twisted hearts. And the twisting is done by the culture of sexual anarchy, personal excess, political hatreds, intellectual dishonesty and perverted freedoms that we’ve systematically created over the past half-century.”
Reiterating what he said 20 years ago, he added: “Treating the symptoms in a culture of violence doesn’t work. We need to look deeper. Until we’re willing to do that, nothing fundamental will change.”