U.S. bishops who’ve seen gun violence up close call for end to ‘madness’

WASHINGTON — Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput knows all too well the pain left behind after incidents such as the 2018 Valentine's Day shooting that has so far taken 17 lives at Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

As archbishop in Denver, he took part in the funerals of Catholics killed by fellow classmates at Columbine High School in 1999. The Florida killings, Feb. 14 which authorities suspect were perpetrated by Nikolas Cruz, a former classmate of many of the dead, seemed to bring back the pain.

"I sat with the parents of children murdered in the Columbine High School massacre, and buried some of their dead," Archbishop Chaput wrote in a statement released a day after the Florida high school shootings. "Nothing seems to change, no matter how brutal the cost. Terrible things happen; pious statements are released and the nation goes back to its self-absorbed distractions."

The Washington Post reported Feb. 15 that an analysis of online archives, state and federal enrollment figures, and news stories revealed that "more than 150,000 students attending at least 170 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus" since the massacre at Columbine.

Having seen what a community goes through after such large-scale killings, the archbishop stated two things are needed.

"We need to pray for the victims and their families because — as I witnessed firsthand at Columbine — their suffering is intense and long lasting," he stated. "And we need to be angry: angry at our lawmakers for doing so little to prevent these catastrophes."

He also unleashed criticism at media who are "feeding off these tragedies and fueling them with a steady stream of sensationalism and moral incoherence," but also at the general public "for perversely tolerating these things, and then forgetting them until the next round of violence."

Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, whose city often is at the top of lists of U.S. cities with a high incidence of homicides, also weighed in after the Florida killings. He called on others to "join in prayer and sorrow at an act of madness carried out in what should be a safe haven, an American school."

"These victims have been robbed of their futures, but so have their parents, classmates and our nation," Cardinal Cupich said in a statement Feb. 15. "Yes, we ask God's blessing on the families of the victims, their classmates, teachers and community. We owe them that as we help them carry the burden of their suffering.

"But, when it is so clear that direct action can be taken to prevent another day like this one, we cannot stand by and shrug our shoulders. Let us extend a hand to those suffering alienation and illness and help them find understanding, treatment and peace."

Cardinal Cupich placed responsibility on lawmakers to make a change.

"Let us make it clear to our elected officials that the weapons and ammunition that facilitate this carnage have no place in our culture. We owe it to our children to protect the cherished freedoms so many have fought and died for: to worship, learn and work in safety," he said.

"That is true patriotism. Leaders in our country, who are in a position to make meaningful changes, need to hear the cries of the wounded and bereaved and open their hearts to the possibility of peace," he added. "Let us work and pray to that end." 

Parkland students arrive in Florida capital to urge action on gun reform

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — About 100 students from Parkland arrived in Tallahassee the evening of Feb. 20, highly motivated to press their state lawmakers in person to reform gun laws after the deadly shooting rampage at their high school.

The afternoon shooting spree Feb. 14 at Parkland's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County left at 17 people dead and at least 14 injured. Former student Nikolas Cruz, 19, is being held without bond on 17 counts of first-degree premeditated murder in the attack.

Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami, whose archdiocese includes Broward County, has called the school shooting "horrifying evil."

According to CBS News, the passion on the gun issue among the students who boarded buses to the state capital "is palpable." Among their demands were a ban on military-grade weapons and universal background checks.

"We will not rest until something changes. We will not rest until our voices are heard. We will not rest until people open their eyes and listen to us," freshman Emma Stravitz said.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said government officials "have to make changes on school safety." Florida News Service reported that in the days following the Parkland massacre, he met with leaders from work groups he charged with focusing on education, law enforcement and mental health to get input for legislation he planned to present to lawmakers Feb. 23.

Among the groups' recommendations were metal detectors at schools, better coordination among agencies and "keeping guns out of the hands of people who are mentally ill," the news service said.

In Washington Feb. 21 and Feb. 22, President Donald Trump was holding what the White House described as "listening sessions." He was meeting with high school students, parents and teachers, among others, over the two days in an effort to formulate a response to mass shootings.

— Catholic News Service


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