Grief and confusion have spread across the United States over the past month after more than two dozen lives were lost to gun violence in Buffalo, New York; Uvalde, Texas; and Tulsa, Oklahoma. Americans are mourning the loss of loved ones and neighbors as they ponder how best to speak out and become a catalyst for change.
On June 8, the Georgetown University Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life brought together a group of Catholic leaders to a virtual panel and asked them to offer their wisdom to a broken country that doesn’t know what to do next. They discussed what believers can bring to ongoing debates.
One of the speakers was the Archbishop of San Antonio, Reverend Gustavo Garcìa-Siller, who served as a kind of spiritual first responder after the Uvalde school shooting. He described what he encountered in the community and, more specifically, what he witnessed in the hospital.
“I could see the suffering, the pain, a kind of numbness proper to a ‘shock’ experience and a lot of tears,” the archbishop said, noting that he and other Catholic leaders have done their best to provide support and a comforting presence. .
Reverend Garcìa-Siller said the best starting point for making change is to retain your empathy.
“One problem I see… is that everything is still scrutinized by politics. When it’s just that goal, people don’t matter,” he said. “Guns have been idols…and with those same sacred weapons we kill people. … The person, the people. They must come first.
Rhina Guidos, journalist and editor of the Catholic News Service, was also a member of the panel. Specifically tasked with following the shootings in Buffalo, Uvalde and Tulsa, Guidos said her experience showed her the importance of self-awareness when defending others.
“How do I see that? How does my decision affect another person’s life? Guido asked. “We have to look deep within ourselves, but I don’t think we are. We react more and don’t listen.
But Guidos also noted that for some time now the Catholic Church has been actively listening to the concerns of its members.
“Sometimes I think there’s a backlash that (church leadership) doesn’t want to listen, but people will be surprised to find out that (church leadership) is actually very supportive of gun control. on fire,” she said.
Many members of the church leadership have publicly denounced the recent incidents of gun violence, Guidos noted. For example, Cardinal Blase Cupich, who leads the Archdiocese of Chicago, shared on Twitter that “The Second Amendment did not come from Sinai. The right to bear arms will never be more important than human life. Our children also have rights. And our elected officials have a moral duty to protect them.
“To see something like that from someone so sweet is really to call on the power and say, ‘We have to do something here,'” Guidos said. “They believe exactly what you believe.”
The Reverend Bryan Massingale, professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University, said he places a high priority on identifying injustices and protecting those at risk.
“What happened in Buffalo was different because it was a hate crime, and hate crimes are about sending a message,” he said. “This message has been received…that this is a country where our lives are not safe and where our lives don’t matter.”
Reverend Massingale continued: “Too often we see this as a ‘political issue’, we don’t define it as a ‘life issue’. … (We must) embrace the spirit’s gift of courage, to demand of our chosen ones that they reflect the will of the people and protect the dignity of life before and after birth.
Sister Mary Haddad, president of the Catholic Health Association, echoed Reverend Massingale’s sentiments as she spoke of the aftermath of the shootings in Buffalo, Uvalde and Tulsa. She said she and her associates’ analysis of the Tulsa shooting provided new insights into the many ways gun violence affects our country.
“Our central institutions – our schools, our hospitals, our places of worship – have all become victims. They have been weakened and nothing is being done,” Sister Haddad said. “Our hospitals and clinics are now spending more money to increase safety. Money that should be invested in patient care is diverted to prevent people from being shot in a place of healing.
She added, “We must hold our elected officials accountable and demand action to address gun violence in this country through sensible gun policies.
When “guided by spirit” or “using our own talents and gifts,” individuals have the ability to become catalysts for change, Reverend Garcìa-Siller said. It also helps to be creative, Sister Haddad said.
Creative is an apt description of the social advocacy work of Sister Judy Byron and the women of the Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment. Through shareholder advocacy, Sister Byron and her partners promote firearms safety and responsibility within the firearms industry.
“A little-known fact is that religious women have used their investments in shareholder advocacy for nearly 50 years,” Sister Byron said.
With Congress now asking gunmakers questions similar to those the sisters have been asking for some time now, Sister Byron hopes change is truly possible.
“We cannot continue to let our children do the heavy lifting. We adults must stand up and demand an end to gun violence,” she said.
Guidos noted that in 2013 Pope Francis called on the church to be a sort of field hospital for people in need.
“I see clearly that what the Church needs most today is the ability to heal the wounds and warm the hearts of the faithful; he needs closeness, closeness. I see the church as a field hospital after the battle,” the pope said, according to America magazine.
Bishop Garcìa-Siller closed the panel with a question to those who downplay or ignore the tragedy of gun violence in the United States.
“We lost lives,” he said. “Children, youth, adults and the elderly, in hospitals, schools and churches. What else do we want to lose? What further studies do we need to do on corpses? There’s enough.”