In the wake of a mass shooting at a community college in Roseburg, Oregon, members of a local Catholic parish are reaching out to offer sympathy, comfort and hope.
“I think people are just in shock. In the small town of Roseburg…nothing like this has ever happened. We hear about it in the news throughout the United States but never hitting home, and now it has hit home," said Fr. William Holtzinger.
After serving at the local Catholic parish, St. Joseph’s, from 2000-2002, Fr. Holtzinger now serves at a parish about an hour away from Rosenburg. As soon as heard about the shooting, he headed to Rosenburg to assist with Mass and to offer pastoral care to the grieving community.
As he offered care to the community, Fr. Holtzinger said he tried to remind people of the mercy and consolation God offers his people in times of tragedy.
“I’m sharing with people to be mindful if they are angry, to be aware of where that anger may come from, and be mindful that God is there to console us," he told CNA.
He warned about the need for a proper response to the grief and anger that are natural consequences to a tragic situation.
“We need to be careful not to let anger become sin. It is just to be angry about an injustice, and an injustice has occurred, but also be mindful that we are all suffering from loss, and from loss can come lots of inappropriate anger."
“As to why these things happen I don’t have a great answer, but we do know that God saves," he said.
On October 1, a 26 year-old man left 10 dead and several others wounded after going on a shooting rampage at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, according to police.
After news broke of the tragedy, St. Joseph’s held a Mass to pray for the victims and their families. Portland Auxiliary Bishop Peter Smith presided over the Mass. At the end, he repeatedly told attendees, “You are not alone," stressing that the bishops and entirety of the archdiocese were grieving with them and offering support.
Several reports from witnesses at the scene describe the shooting as religiously motivated.
Stacy Boylan, told CNN that his daughter, who survived the shooting, described to him how the gunman asked his victims to state their religion before shooting them.
“’Are you a Christian?’ he would ask them, ‘and if you are a Christian stand up,’" Boylan recalled, “because if you’re a Christian you’re going to see God in just about one second."
Another survivor, Kortney Moore, gave a similar account to a local newspaper, The News-Review.
“Here are people who have professed their faith, and because of their profession, they were executed," Fr. Holtzinger said.
“In my mind, those sound like martyrs to me."
“And they may have been killed anyway, because (the shooter) then went on a rampage, but my question to myself is, what would I have done?" Fr. Holtzinger said.
“I hope I would have had the courage to stand up like these other individuals and to say, ‘Yes, I am a Christian.’"
Just before Mass, a family belonging to St. Joseph’s contacted the parish in a panic – their daughter attended Umpqua, and they still hadn’t heard from her. After Mass, Father Jose Manuel Campos Garcia, the pastor at St. Joseph’s, learned that his young parishioner was in fact among the dead, and left immediately to be with the family.
Fr. Holtzinger said he was also especially moved by how quickly Archbishop Alexander Sample and Auxiliary Bishop Peter Smith offered support to Fr. Jose and the Roseburg community. Bishop Smith was able to attend the Mass, while Archbishop Sample immediately sent condolences and prayers.
“These terrible shooting tragedies are becoming far too common an experience in our contemporary society. They are always shocking and sobering events, but they are even more so when they strike so close to home," Archbishop Sample said in an initial statement he posted on social media. “My prayers are with the victims of the shooting and their families. I can only imagine the trauma they are experiencing."
“My prayers are also with the community at UCC and the wider community of Roseburg. As the Catholic shepherd of western Oregon, I wish to express my closeness to the people at this sad and tragic time."
Not long after, Archbishop Sample sent out a letter to all the priests to be distributed around the Archdiocese of Portland, saying that he was “saddened beyond words" by the shooting and that his heart was “very heavy with sorrow as I grieve with all of you."
“We must unite our suffering and the suffering of all those most directly affected by this tragedy with the cross of Jesus. In Christ, sorrow, death and loss are transformed by the glory of the resurrection. Jesus has conquered sin and death and opened the way to eternal life," he said.
“Let us prayerfully commend our deceased brothers and sisters to the mercy of our loving Father. Let us also pray for healing and strength for all those who grieve the loss of loved ones and who care for the wounded."
By Mary Rezac