We’ve had a lot to cope with since we ushered in the new decade on January 1, 2020.
The worldwide coronavirus pandemic and its social distancing restrictions, the resulting economic collapse with millions of Americans unemployed, the police killing of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis, and the widespread civil unrest that followed, all amidst a contentious presidential race at a time of already deep divisions in the nation.
It’s no surprise, then, that a momentous event of last year the mass shooting by a gunman who opened fire on Latinos at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas— almost seemed like ancient history on its first anniversary Aug. 3.
The date remains an important one for the people of El Paso, which is as it should be. The city organized a pandemic restricted memorial to victims of the attack that left 23 people dead and more than two dozen wounded, while officials announced that a permanent memorial is planned in the future.
It would be wise for all of us, in New York and elsewhere, to reflect on that event, which came amid a spate of mass shootings including one just hours later in Dayton, Ohio.
With the recent uptick in gang-related and other senseless shootings here and in large cities across the country, we clearly have a long way to go in getting a handle on guns and gunrelated violence.
What we’ve seen in our cities these past few months differs from the mass shootings of a year ago in that most of the recent victims and intended victims appear to be targeted by rival gang members or perceived enemies—although plenty of innocent bystanders, including a year-old baby in Brooklyn, have been caught up as well.
But the underlying issue, whether targeted street crime or mass killings, is the same: Too many guns, too little respect for life.
El Paso’s Bishop Mark J. Seitz, whose ministry was profoundly impacted by the Walmart shooting, said he’s spent much of the past year with the families directly affected by the tragedy—visiting survivors and the families of the dead. “I’ve walked with them…I’ve experienced with them their pain, their terrible loss,” he told Catholic News Service in an interview timed to the anniversary. He added that it’s too soon to say the community has mended.
Still, he said he’s learned from the experience that “the Church has an opportunity to do things that maybe others aren’t in a position to do.”
“We transcend the ideological and partisan divide that is present, and we can speak to different members of the community and provide a kind of a safe place to gather,” he said.
The bishop also said that as a spiritual leader the events of this last year have heightened his sense, crucial to the calling of a priest, that he can bring God “into the midst of situations where He’s needed most, and also bring consolation to people…where they feel so alone.”
“I’ve come to see that my presence as a priest, the presence of the Church, in general, is one of the only things that can truly make a difference for people in those moments,” he said.
The presence of God in our lives is indeed something the Church can give to all of us, in good times and in bad, and for that we are grateful.
We add our prayers to those offered for the people of El Paso as they remember their tragic time.