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USCCB president decries shooting at Baptist church

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This story was updated Nov. 7.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Catholic Church stands "in unity" with the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and the larger community after a shooting during Sunday services took the lives of at least 26 people and injured at least 20 others.

Those who died ranged in age from 5 to 72 years old, and included 14-year-old Annabelle Pomeroy. Her father, Frank Pomeroy, is pastor of the church but he was not at the service.

"We stand in unity with you in this time of terrible tragedy — as you stand on holy ground, ground marred today by horrific violence," said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

With San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller, "I extend my prayers and the prayers of my brother bishops for the victims, the families, the first responders, our Baptist brothers and sisters, indeed the whole community of Sutherland Springs."

Pope Francis called the shooting an "act of senseless violence" and asked Archbishop Garcia-Siller to convey his condolences to the families of the victims and to the injured.

Pope Francis also prayed that the Lord would "console all who mourn" and "grant them the spiritual strength that triumphs over violence and hatred by the power of forgiveness, hope and reconciling love."

Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge said he stands in solidarity with his brother bishops in expressing deep regret and sorrow for those killed in the church shooting, as well as for those injured. Soon after hearing the news of the shooting, Bishop Burbidge tweeted, “May we be united in our prayers for the victims of the shooting in Texas church and for the end of all horrific violence in our world.”

Law enforcement officials told CNN that a lone gunman entered the church at about 11:30 a.m. CST while 50 people were attending Sunday services. Almost everyone in the congregation was shot. Sutherland Springs is 30 to 40 miles southeast of San Antonio.

Two law enforcement officials told The Associated Press the suspect was Devin Kelley, described as a white male in his 20s. He parked at a gas station across the street from the church, crossed the street and allegedly began firing as he walked toward the church and then continued firing once inside. He was wearing black tactical-type gear and used an assault weapon, AP said.

After he left the church, he was confronted by a local resident who had a rifle "and engaged the suspect," AP said, quoting Freeman Martin, who is with the Texas Department of Public Safety. The suspect was later found dead in his vehicle some distance away. Police said Kelley died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Kelly had been in the Air Force but was discharged for bad conduct, allegedly for domestic abuse, and served a 12-month sentence in confinement after being court-martialed in 2012.

His in-laws were members of the First Baptist Church.

"We need prayers!" exclaimed Archbishop Garcia-Siller in a Nov. 5 statement. "The evil perpetrated on these (families) who were gathered to worship God on the Lord's Day — especially children and the elderly — makes no sense and will never be fully understood," he said. "Disbelief and shock are the overwhelming feelings; there are no adequate words. There can be no explanation or motive for such a scene of horror at a small country church for families gathered to praise Jesus Christ."

He added, "Let's help these brothers and sisters with prayers; they need us. Also, pray fervently for peace amidst all of the violence which seems to be overwhelming our society. We must be lights in the darkness."

"When we go to church to worship God we enter a world that is what we dream life will be," said Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso in a Nov. 5 statement. Those murdered in the church, he added, "have given the ultimate witness."

Bishop Seitz said, "As with any act of terror we must not allow evil behavior to make us fearful or to prevent us from doing what is right.  Ultimately, we know that the love of God will be victorious."

"Our hearts ache for those suffering from the terrible loss of life," said the Texas Catholic bishops in a joint statement issued Nov. 6. "We open our hands and hearts for these families in this moment of terrible tragedy. We should all fall on our knees in prayer in this moment of disaster."

"We ask the Lord for healing of those injured, his loving care of those who have died and the consolation of their families," Cardinal DiNardo said in his statement. "This incomprehensibly tragic event joins an ever-growing list of mass shootings, some of which were also at churches while people were worshipping and at prayer, he continued.

"We must come to the firm determination that there is a fundamental problem in our society. A culture of life cannot tolerate, and must prevent, senseless gun violence in all its forms. May the Lord, who himself is peace, send us his spirit of charity and nonviolence to nurture his peace among us all," the cardinal said.



© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017