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Church Leaders: Promote Culture Of Life to End Gun Violence

Pallbearers at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Uvalde, Texas, carry the coffin of Jose Flores Jr. after his funeral Mass June 1, 2022. Jose was one of the victims of the Robb Elementary School mass shooting May 24 that resulted in the deaths of 19 children and two teachers. (Photo: CNS/Veronica G. Cardenas, Reuters)

PROSPECT HEIGHTS — Lamenting a “culture of death” that exists in the U.S. after three mass shootings in less than a month, Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio on June 8 spoke of the need for Catholics to be leaders in reinvigorating a culture of life.

“The respect of people is not there and so we have to bring it up,” Archbishop García-Siller said. “There is not much to lose. We have been losing lives. What else do we want to lose?”

Archbishop García-Siller has spent a great deal of time in Uvalde, Texas, in the aftermath of the May 24 mass shooting at Robb Elementary School, where a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers. He has led multiple Masses for the victims and the community and met with the victim’s families and other community members in the weeks since the tragedy.

Archbishop García-Siller has been outspoken about the need for gun policy reform, decrying again on June 8 that guns in the U.S. have become “idols” even though “with the same sacred arms we kill children and innocent people.”

That comment aside, he focused largely on what Catholics around the country can do within their local parishes to create change. He said first to listen to the stories of those who were directly affected to know the truth. Second, he said, it is important to organize, lead, and directly appeal to political leaders from the perspective of faith — and not politics.

“One big problem that I see that’s been happening in the past few weeks is that still everything is looked at by politics, and when it’s just that lens, people don’t matter,” Archbishop García-Siller said. “The structures in place, they don’t matter, the improvements in procedures, in safety … that will not be heard because it’s the political and is basically the party lines that leads everything.”

“The best way is for people of faith to really be led by the Spirit … otherwise we just use our own talents and gifts, and we need more than that to bring peace and understanding and eventually dialogue,” he continued.

Archbishop García-Siller spoke alongside other faith leaders on the way forward after three mass shootings — including the one in Uvalde — in the past month that claimed 35 lives. The discussion was hosted online by the Georgetown University Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life.

John Carr, the co-director of the initiative, who served over 20 years as director of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference Department of Justice, Peace, and Human Development, opened the discussion with a note on the politicized debates on how to prevent the next tragedy and the alternative approach within Catholic social teaching.

“People argue whether we need thoughts and prayers, or change and action. Whether it’s guns or people who kill people. Whether it’s mental health, or young people getting assault weapons. Whether it’s a culture of violence, or policies that don’t protect us from gun violence,” Carr said. “The genius of Catholic social teaching is the word and that brings things together.”

Sister Judy Byron led her comments with the testimony earlier in the day of 11-year-old Miah Cerrillo to Congress during a June 8 House Oversight Committee hearing on gun violence.

Cerillo is a Robb Elementary School shooting survivor. In her pre-recorded testimony, she detailed the gunman entering her classroom, shooting her teacher and classmates, and covering herself in blood to make the gunman think she was dead.

Sister Judy, director of the Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment [NWCRI] and a leader in corporate responsibility efforts on gun safety, said she saw how difficult the recollection was, which made her wonder why a child had to lead the efforts for change, to begin with.

“What I’m thinking now is we cannot continue to let our children do the heavy lifting,” she said. “We adults must stand up and demand that gun violence end.”

Sister Judy and NWCRI work to get gun manufacturers on board as part of the solution to gun violence. They’ve introduced resolutions at every shareholder conference since 2019 to get Sturm, Ruger & Co., and Smith & Wesson — the nation’s two largest gun manufacturers — to adopt human rights policy and conduct a human rights impact assessment. They’ve requested assessments to see if guns can be made safer, and into the companies’ marketing approach.

As of June 8, Sister Judy admits the companies’ responses over the years have been subpar. However, she hopes for progress after their proposal for Sturm, Ruger & Co. to conduct a human rights impact assessment was recently backed by a majority of the company’s stakeholders.

Sister Judy acknowledged that many Catholics presumably aren’t invested in gun manufacturers, but noted a way for Catholics to make a difference is to look into whether or not other investments they make impact gun culture in the U.S.

“Talk to your managers,” she said. “What about the banks? Are you invested in banks and they’re financing gun manufacturers?, adding the examples of Mastercard and Visa, and the way their platforms are used to buy ghost guns online.”

Commenting on the May 14 mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo where 10 people were killed in an apparent racially motivated attack, Father Bryan Massingale, a weekend associate pastor at the predominantly black Parish of St. Charles Borromeo Resurrection and All Saints in Harlem, said that at this moment Catholic teaching calls the faithful to ask, “How are we living together?

“And then, be led by the Spirit and embrace the Spirit’s gift of courage, to demand our elected officials that they reflect the will of the people and protect the dignity of people,” said Massingale, a professor of Theological and Social Ethics at Fordham University.