National News

Uvalde Turns to Faith to Begin to Heal From Shooting

People in Uvalde, Texas, attend Mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church May 25, 2022. (Photo: CNS photo/Nuri Vallbona, Reuters)

UVALDE, Texas — Towards the end of a May 26 Mass to honor Irma Garcia — one of the two Robb Elementary School teachers who was killed on May 24 — and her husband Joe, who suffered a heart attack just two days later, Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio presented their children a bouquet of roses, at one point leading the church in a collective “we love you.”

The moment was filled with tears and embraces, emblematic of what’s found across Uvalde. Days after the unthinkable tragedy, where 19 children and two teachers were shot and killed in the school, the less-than-20,000 townspeople are simultaneously grieving, supporting one another — however possible — and searching for a path forward.

A path that for many will be anchored by their faith.

“Faith is very important. With everything that’s happening right now we really need faith,” Atticus Villescaz, a 12-year-old altar server of the Mass told The Tablet. 

The May 26 Mass was the third special intention Mass of the week following the shooting – each for a particular purpose, and each one led by Archbishop Siller (and altar-served by Villescaz).

The Mass on the night of the shooting brought a shocked community together at a time of great uncertainty. The second Mass on May 25 involved 21 children individually bringing 21 roses to the altar to honor the 21 victim’s as their names were read aloud. And the third, on May 26, was the presentation of those roses to the Garcia children.

A constant message of Archbishop Siller’s throughout each Mass was the words “peace, love, and Holy Spirit,” which he taught the 21 children in sign language in front of the entire church.

“I used sign language ­– love, peace, and the Holy Spirit – because sometimes we don’t know what to say, how to console people, express how we feel, and so sometimes we can just do the signs and live a day at a time,” Archbishop Siller told The Tablet.

Archbishop Siller noted that it’s especially important for that love to come from outside Uvalde.

“The way we make a difference is the vision that the love of God is for all of us and so the city has to be inflamed with love and things will find their place and people will restart their lives,” Archbishop Siller said. “We need to be stronger ourselves for others.”

‘Everybody Knows Everybody’

Around the time the sun began to set on May 26, a woman and her daughter waited with flowers in front of yellow caution tape that marked off the Robb Elementary School property. Just across the street from where they were standing, 21 white crosses with the names of the victims were set at the front of the Robb Elementary School property.

Eventually, a Texas state trooper came up and asked them who the flowers were for, to which the mother replied, “they’re for everybody.” The officer then placed the flowers at the memorial, which at that point was covered with flowers, balloons, and more.

As the mother and daughter began the walk back to the car, they were constantly greeting people — who themselves were bringing flowers to the memorial ­— by name, and sometimes stopping for a brief conversation. It wasn’t just them, either. As people came and went from the memorial there were constant stops and starts to greet and embrace others.

“This community is very close,” said Gina Limon “Everybody knows everybody.”

Limon was with The Tablet visiting the memorial, and along the way stopped at neighboring houses to greet people that were outside, at the same time waving to those walking by.

Both there, and after the Masses, it was clear how close and connected Uvalde is.

After Mass on May 25, Elia Zamarripa explained that one of the little girls that got killed in the classroom was over her house last week for her granddaughter’s birthday party.

I was talking with her mother, and she was saying she needed to take her to swimming lessons, and I said ‘yes, that’s a good idea they need to learn,’ ” Zamarripa said. “Those were her plans for the summer and that’s not going to happen because somebody else took that away from her.” She added that she was with the gunman’s grandmother three weeks ago.

Fathme Abraham, a catechist at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, told The Tablet that a number of the students that were killed attended Sunday school at the parish. Abraham is also a former teacher and knew both teachers — Irma Garcia and Eva Mireles — that were killed.

“I know that Ms. Garcia and Ms. Mireles love their children. Ms. Garcia was actually my son’s teacher, and she was wonderful,” Abraham said. “It’s just crazy how we lost two amazing teachers and then we lost amazing kids that were very faithful and very loving.”

A Path Forward Through Faith

The motive of the gunman remains unknown, but with the details that have come out Abraham highlighted societal changes that need to happen to prevent children from this kind of isolation, and it begins with refocusing familial life in the faith.

“I can’t imagine what the parents are feeling, but I also couldn’t bear myself being the mother of the shooter because right now she must feel like nobody wants her and she needs to know that we don’t judge her, and we shouldn’t judge him either because I’m not saying it’s OK what he did, but I know that there’s a flaw in the system and it all starts and home, and the teachers, and the moms, dads, cousins, and everybody should be looking at it more closely,” Abraham said.

“We have to bring back Jesus in our lives because that’s one thing that if they know him, and they learn how to love him, everything else falls into place,” she continued. “We just need to teach our kids to respect each other because we don’t know what was going through his head.”

Zamarripa also noted that outside of the home, parents need to bring their children to Mass to get the children to have more faith and to be “strong” with them. And Limon emphasized the need for parents to be present and involved, saying “discipline begins at home.” Other changes they want to see are an increased age to purchase guns and more security at the Uvalde schools.

Something else Abraham mentioned that’s needed to heal: Forgiveness.

“It’s up to us to love and forgive. It’s all in the people and we have to forgive what happened,” Abraham said. “It’s going to be hard, but as a community, I think that prayer and time will heal and I know that all of this happened for a reason,” Abraham said.