Local parishes pray for Fort Hood after shootings
By Enedelia J. Obregón
Prayers and special intentions were offered in parishes around Fort Hood following the April 2 shooting that left four people on the post dead –– including the shooter –– and 16 injured in area hospitals.
Missionaries of the Sacred Heart Father Richard O’Rourke, dean of the Killeen/Temple deanery and pastor of St. Paul Chong Hasang Parish in Harker Heights, said Masses were dedicated to the victims and their families the day after the shooting at Seton Medical Center Harker Heights as well as Holy Family Parish in Copperas Cove and at his parish.
On post, an official memorial service was held April 9 with President Barak Obama in attendance.
“The military takes care of its own,” Father O’Rourke said. “They have chaplains to take care of them in the post. All we can do is offer prayers and special Masses.”
While Fort Hood lies within the boundaries of the Diocese of Austin, it falls under the purview of the Archdiocese for Military Services.
Archbishop for the Military Services Timothy P. Broglio said he had been in touch with the Catholic priests who serve at Fort Hood to assure them of the solidarity and the prayerful support of the Archdiocese for the Military Services.
“I offer heartfelt condolences to the families that mourn the loss of a loved one. As believers we also pray for the repose of the souls of the victims and the assailant … The remedy for this senseless violence can only be found in a more profound respect for human life, a deeper concern for our neighbors, a willingness to listen rather than to shout, and a reduction in the glorification of violence by our society,” he said in a statement released the day after the tragedy.
At St. Joseph Parish in Killeen, readings for funeral Mass were used on first Friday rather than the daily readings since the Mass was dedicated to the dead and injured. Stations of the Cross followed the Mass.
Father Matthew Kinney, associate pastor of St. Joseph Parish, built his homily around Lamentations 3, saying that God gives us room for despair and to grieve in time of tragedy.
“A great tragedy has happened,” he said. “We have to take the time to let the sadness happen, and the grief and despair.”
He noted that Lamentations begins with a sense of hopelessness. But at the end, the writer is hopeful.
“We are not completely separated from those who died,” Father Kinney said, noting that we will one day be reunited with those who go before us.
“But the Lord’s mercies are not over,” he said. “We have the promise of Christ “… this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it [on] the last day.” (Jn 6:39)
For some of those attending Mass and the Stations of the Cross, coming together in prayer was important.
“We need to ask everyone to pray for peace and comfort for the families and the souls of the deceased,” said Joe Ramos, who is in formation for the diaconate. “The military is seen as protectors and when something terrible happens to the protectors it can shake our faith. Our brothers and sisters need a lot of prayers and that takes a radical trust in God’s love.”
Daniel Moore, who is involved in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul conference at St. Joseph Parish, said military families are under a lot of stress, much of which is financial. Frequent moves often mean spouses can’t hold down jobs to help out and they are away from family. He said they see military families at the food pantry at St. Joseph.
“We help a lot of families with utilities and rent,” Moore said. “It’s not just prayers they need.”
María Mondragón stayed in Killeen after leaving the military. At the Knights of Columbus Fish Fry, she said constant deployments and moves put a lot of stress on families, including those left stateside. When spouses return, there is stress in adjusting, wondering when and where the next deployment or move will be.
She said churches can help strengthen couples’ marriages by offering babysitting so couples can spend time together. Women’s groups and women’s and couples’ retreats would also help.
“Military life affects kids,” she said. “Every time you move there’s a new place to get to know and new friends to make.”
Her 13-year-old daughter, Josefina, said video game nights or beauty/spa nights would be something teenagers could enjoy.
José Pagón, who is still on active duty, said about a quarter of people in the military are Catholic. However, only eight percent of the chaplains are Catholic priests.
“We need faith-based coping skills,” he said. “Because we don’t stay in one place too long that faith support is important. We don’t have family around. I’ve been here six years and that’s the longest I’ve been anywhere.”
Having faith communities is especially important to teenagers, he said.
“They are at a point in life where they are establishing their identities … Maybe churches can form welcome committees for those kids.” This may help them make new friends in the community, which is difficult because they move around so much.