The Catholic community of Uvalde celebrates a painful anniversary with a mass and prayers

Community members gathered in Uvalde, Texas to pray and honor the 21 lives taken last year in a shooting at Robb Elementary School.

“We kneel again today before God, united and seeking ways to support each other. We continue to share the pain while giving thanks for the greatness of the short lives that were taken from us a year ago,” said Archbishop of San Antonio Gustavo García-Siller during a bilingual Mass at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Uvalde on May 24, the first anniversary of the tragedy.

The memorial mass, requested by community members, drew more than 500 people to Sacred Heart Church, according to the Archdiocese of San Antonio. People stood at the back and sides of the church and others outside the shrine to honor the memory of those killed, most of whom were 10 years old.

The pastor greeted people from different areas of the city, including the families and friends of the 19 children and two teachers who were killed. Also present were students and teachers from different schools, including Sacred Heart Catholic School, as well as members of Catholic charities in the Archdiocese, nuns, counselors and Catholic extension representatives.

Following a memorial mass on May 24, 2023 at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Uvalde, Texas, to honor those lost after the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio kisses a woman on the first anniversary of the mass shooting. (OSV New Photo/courtesy Archdiocese of San Antonio)

During his homily, Bishop García-Siller acknowledged the difficulties felt in the hearts of suffering families, acknowledging different grieving processes and adding that their presence at Mass was a testimony of love, present even in pain.

“The fact is that we are here. It means love has won,” he said during the mass, which was broadcast live. “In the midst of all that has happened and all that we have been through – and we will continue to face – love prevails. … Let’s just thank the Lord for allowing us to experience that love triumphs over everything. True love conquers all.

He spoke of one of the readings during the Mass in the Acts of the Apostles where people weep as they say goodbye to Paul because “they will never see his face again.” That grief is something members of the Uvalde community can relate to, he said. “I’m sure there have been many times over the past year where you’ve experienced, we’ve experienced, loneliness,” he said. “But we never walk alone.”

“United with Jesus, making his will ours, we are guaranteed to one day share the fullness of the Lord’s own joy with those we have been called to love in this life,” he said.

The Holy Spirit, “the comforter,” is sent by the Father at Pentecost to make Jesus present and “can heal all wounds,” he said in Spanish.

With the Holy Spirit, healing is possible so that “the tears we unite with those of Christ are not shed in vain”, he added. “It can allow us to build bridges that unite the community.”

Bishop García-Siller said that “our desire for unity in this community, for healing, consolation and blessing is only possible if we, brothers and sisters, commit our own lives in hard work to make this reality possible. “.

“Let us love one another and teach our young people to choose the path of peace instead of violence. May we defeat evil with good,” he said.

After the homily, Elvira Sanchez Kisser, director of the Archdiocesan Archives, spoke about a glass sculpture commissioned for the community at the Archbishop’s request titled “Love in the Time of Great Suffering.” Intended as a visual guide to “transforming our grief into something more”, it features three hearts of glass: a wounded heart, a heart being mended and comforted by the Virgin Mary, and a heart transformed by the Holy Spirit.

“It was an invitation to transformation” in the healing process, Bishop García-Siller told OSV News in a phone interview after Mass. “But it’s a very slow process because we have to respect where everyone is in the process.”

After the presentation of the artwork, Marti West, superintendent of the Catholic Schools Office for the Archdiocese of San Antonio, read the names of the honored victims. Family and friends brought candles in remembrance as each person’s name was read and placed them in front of the altar and the artwork of hearts and the Virgin Mary.

“It was a beautiful moment of peace,” the Archbishop said.

There were 22 candles present, with the additional candle representing the husband of Irma Garcia, a member of the Sacred Heart community and one of the two teachers killed by the shooter. A spokesman for the archdiocese said he died of a heart attack he suffered while visiting a memorial to his wife less than 24 hours after the shooting.

Community members later told the Archbishop that the Mass was useful for everyone present. Some spoke of the homily and the glass artwork, and others spoke of a “sense of the Spirit at work” in the community which, at times, was divided.

Since the shooting, it’s been reported that the town of 15,000 has seen a divide over gun control and is calling for accountability and transparency in investigations into law enforcement’s response to the shooting .

“With the help of each other, we must grow together, stay together, build bridges together,” Bishop García-Siller told OSV News. He also stressed the need for mutual respect in his homily.

Uvalde and surrounding towns are part of the Archdiocese of San Antonio, which helped family members affected by the act of violence. In the days following the tragedy, Bishop García-Siller celebrated Mass daily at the Sacred Heart and never stopped visiting the community. Chicago-based Catholic Extension, which supports the church in the poorest parts of America, provided scholarships for some of the surviving children to attend Sacred Heart Catholic School and provided additional support for the community.

During the interview and homily, Bishop García-Siller mentioned the need to end gun violence and the efforts of mothers and fathers in the community to change gun laws. “We must end the culture of violence,” he said, speaking broadly from the United States. “It’s unbearable because violence has escalated in the country in so many ways, including the shootings. We must change minds and hearts.

The Archbishop said the Remembrance Mass helps people feel “nourished”. Before Mass, some people were understandably tense, sad and angry, but they had more peace after Mass, he said. “They were freer. And they were crying. But their cry was not dark and lonely. They knew we all wanted to be there. And that we are looking for a new Uvalde,” he said.

After Mass, the Archbishop spent time with the families of the victims and survivors who remained. Later, he visited each of the classrooms in the parish school and spoke to the students. As they have been throughout the year, counselors were available to help those dealing with grief and trauma.

Counselors from the Bereavement Center in San Antonio released butterflies in a ceremony after mass, and children received clothespins for a butterfly art project in honor of the victims of Robb Elementary. They also sang hymns and prayed.

Earlier at Mass, a Sacred Heart student expressed his gratitude to everyone who supported the community. “Jesus said, ‘When two or more are gathered together in my name, I am there in his place.’ We will remain united and in prayer in the face of our daily challenges,” she said.

“We hope Our Lady of Guadalupe will continue to accompany the families of Uvalde,” the Archbishop said.

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