Two years after the Uvalde massacre, peace is possible

Sacred Heart Catholic Church holds memorial Mass for community continuing to heal

Catholic Extension Society

It is a delicate balancing act to honor the process of grief, while leaning in towards hope. But that is exactly what is happening at Sacred Heart Church in Uvalde.

Twenty-one candles lined the sanctuary railing at Sacred Heart Parish, a reminder of the 19 fourth graders and two beloved teachers whose lives were abruptly taken on May 24, 2022, at Robb Elementary by a lone gunman with a high-powered rifle who breached the Uvalde school building.

Families of the deceased were there to honor their loved ones at the Catholic parish’s memorial Mass on the second anniversary of the shooting.

Children of Sacred Heart School also filled the church. Many of the students were at Robb Elementary on that horrific day and have since transferred to Sacred Heart School to heal from the wounds of terror and trauma of witnessing violence and losing friends, teachers, and family members.

Watching teary-eyed fathers and mothers light candles in honor of their children was one of the most powerful and heart-wrenching experiences of the entire morning.

The parents of Jailah Silguero quietly lit a candle for their 10-year-old. They wore shirts that said, “Two years gone but never forgotten.” Their sorrow, like each of the parents, is almost too deep to comprehend.But the theme of the day was about peace, a peace that emanates when we build a world founded on love.

Even amid the enduring pain, signs of hope filled the church. This included kindergarteners

decked out in their red caps and graduation gowns. They represent hope for the future of Uvalde as the future peacebuilders that will write the next chapter of Uvalde’s history.

The readings at Mass were very deliberately chosen. St. Paul’s statement, “Love never fails,” was proclaimed by the students. And Jesus’ words in the Gospel followed, “Love one another. Remain in my love.”

Father Matthew De Leon is the young, energetic, and much-loved pastor of Sacred Heart. He has journeyed with this community through every instant of this horrible ordeal. Two years ago, he was at the hospital anointing the children who were slain and being with the families as they waited to hear any news about their children. 

At the May 24 memorial Mass, he wore a white stole embroidered with the names of the 21 victims. It was draped across his heart.

Love makes peace possible

Father De Leon said in his homily, “Love is what liberates us in a world that can be so dark—which we know more than most. It’s the thing that gives us hope. Love liberates. Peace is possible.”

He continued, “There are no limits with what we can do for one another.  We can continue to forge a community founded on the foundations of love. We try to do those things that remind us of love.”

At that moment the congregation was showered with soap bubbles, much to the delight of the children. Father De Leon led this creative blessing.

As the bubbles floated down, he said,

We have to take care of ourselves and each other. And don’t forget to see the signs of God’s love in our midst.”Bottom of Form

He then strapped on a guitar and led sixth graders in song.

“I believe in Jesus,” they sang. It is hard to believe that these singing sixth graders were the same kids who just two years ago lost their innocence during the shooting at Robb Elementary.

Father De Leon also addressed the children and parents of the deceased, saying, “To the families that are here that have lost loved ones — thank you for being here. We love you. You are in your home.”

He added a word of encouragement to those educators who were at Robb Elementary. “Thank you for being here. We love you. This is your house. This is your home. This is where we are allowed to remain in his love. The healing that continues in our community is binding us together.”

On this solemn day, all sides of this tragedy were present. There was room for everyone in the healing embrace of Sacred Heart Church and School. 

And during this long and ongoing journey towards healing, people continue to find hope in the parish and school community. In the last two years, faith formation classes have quadrupled to more than 500. School enrollment at Sacred Heart School has doubled. The Rites of Christian Initiation for both children and adults have doubled. And weekend Mass attendance has doubled to 1,400. As Father De Leon explains, “God is calling. People are listening.”

Children are leading the way

Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, MSpS, who celebrated Mass at Sacred Heart every night that terrible summer, recommended that the adults take cues from their children. “The children will show us,” he said. “They will lead the way.”

After Mass the children released butterflies and began singing in their schoolyard, “Peace is flowing like a river. Flowing out of you and me.”

Children are leading the way toward peace.

Father De Leon’s words come back to us. “Love is what liberates us in a world that that can be so dark. We know more than most. It’s the thing that gives us hope. Love liberates. Peace is possible.”

And Catholic Extension Society, for its part, has been with Sacred Heart from the beginning. In 1906 we helped build their original church and school. Today we are continuing to support the community, letting the children lead the way. We are offering scholarships to Sacred Heart School and supporting the Uvalde-based Teresian sisters as they minister to children and families with a mission to help them rediscover joy and some normalcy. 

Our support will continue in our latest initiative, a new counseling center on the Sacred Heart campus. It will offer support services to the entire community and will be dedicated in June — beginning another avenue for making peace possible in this town that so desperately craves it.

Catholic Extension Society is a non-profit organization that builds up vibrant and transformative Catholic faith communities in the poorest regions of America. Support for ministries in communities like Uvalde all comes from the generosity of donors.

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