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NEW YORK – On the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio, standing at the pulpit of the town’s lone Catholic church, reminded the community that faith and unity are essential to move forward.
“Our presence here today is very meaningful … because we are communicating that it is with God that we are going to pull through and heal,” García-Siller said. “Our presence here today is already a foretaste of the hope that helps us communicate among us, and which pushes us forward.”
At one point, García-Siller passionately addressed the need for gun control legislation in Texas, which hasn’t yet happened despite pleas from many of the victim’s family members.
“How those violent arms could be on the streets; that doesn’t please God at all,” the archbishop said. “There’s a lot of work to do.”
As a result of the mass shooting on May 24, 2022, 19 fourth-grade students and two teachers died, in what was one of the deadliest mass shootings in the nation’s history. The assailant was also killed, but law enforcement’s slow response has long been scrutinized.
In the year since, the town’s police force has been dismantled, the school superintendent retired amid pressure from the victim’s families, and the state officers have also been terminated for their response as the massacre unfolded. Investigations at the local and federal level into whether or not criminal charges should be brought against any of the police responders.
Outside of Uvalde, the victim’s families have gone to the Capitol every Tuesday advocating for gun legislation, including a bill that would raise the minimum age to buy an AR-15-style rifle to 21 from 18. The bill showed promise earlier this month, but is unlikely to pass before the legislative session ends.
Speaking to Crux, García-Siller noted the resistance to changing the gun laws.
“All of those Tuesdays … they were not really heard. They were really peaceful, but they were consistent, and they were right,” García-Siller told Crux.
“Those mothers and fathers lost their children so they understand clearly that there is a need for gun control, and yes, there’s a need for it, because those kinds of arms that have been used in shootings are not acceptable in our cities,” he said.
After the May 24 remembrance Mass on the year anniversary of the shooting, García-Siller said he is hopeful that faith will play a significant role in building a “new Uvalde.”
The Mass – at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Uvalde – was filled to capacity. The lectors and those who read the petitions were students from the parish school, who had been wounded in the shooting at Robb. The choir and the liturgy were composed of teachers from Catholic schools around the archdiocese.
García-Siller told Crux that the Mass responded to the community’s need.
“I had many feelings throughout the whole liturgy, but what prevailed is peace because everybody was helped today,” the archbishop said. “It wasn’t just about the children, the teachers, those who died, the sisters, or priests, or parents, or counselors – everyone was able to feel that this celebration was for them.”
“It was a good presence of church, a sense of church, in a church that is moving on in difficult times,” he continued, highlighting that he saw people at the Mass who have not gone to church yet this year. “The community still has a long way to go, but today was a very good day.”
During the Mass, García-Siller talked about the need for the community to leave the old Uvalde behind, and focus on building the new Uvalde that they want and hope for, and that God wants as well. To do so, he said to Crux, the community needs to continue to strengthen one another – respect where people are in the moment – but build up one another to move forward.
García-Siller further noted the lack of leadership and uncertainty surrounding the town still, and how young people in their 20s and early 30s need to assume leadership positions and work with the elders to paint and execute a vision for Uvalde’s future.
There’s also a role the church needs to play to keep people’s hope alive.
“[Jesus] can only do his work in us and through us if we are a determined partner with him. If we partner with other voices to speak about hate, division, violence, the Holy Spirit will not help us because he’s trying to build unity, peace, and bring back joy,” García-Siller said.
“Our desire for unity in this community, for healing, consolation, and blessing, is only possible if we commit our own lives to hard work to make God’s will possible. We must boldly assume our responsibility and remain vigilant.”
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg