ODESSA, Texas (CNA) — Several other U.S. bishops offered prayers Saturday evening after a gunman killed at least seven people and injured more than 25 in a Texas shooting spree that included the hijacking of a mail truck and the shooting of several police officers.
“It is with a heart full of sorrow that I write these words after hearing of the deaths and injuries caused by the shootings affecting Odessa and Midland,” said Bishop Michael Sis of San Angelo in a statement released shortly after the shooting.
“My prayers are for those who have lost their lives, who have been seriously injured and for their families,” Bishop Sis added. “My prayers are also for the great people of those communities directly impacted by this senseless act of violence, especially the courageous first responders and the local medical teams.
The Aug. 31 shooting, which took place in Midland and Odessa, Texas, was at least the 18th deadly mass shooting to take place in the U.S. in 2019. Midland and Odessa are within the Diocese of San Angelo.
This shooting began when a man identified as Seth Aaron Ator was stopped by police for a traffic violation and shot at officers as they approached him. After Ator fled from that scene, he shot at pedestrians and people in cars. Among those shot was reportedly a 17-month-old girl. The shooter, who hijacked a mail truck during his shooting spree, was eventually shot and killed by police outside a movie theater.
At a prayer vigil Sept. 1 held at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin in Odessa, Fr. David Herrera, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Midland, joined religious leaders of all faiths in praying for all those affected by the shootings.
“As believers in our great and loving God, I think our focus and energy should not be necessarily on the question why did this happen. Let’s leave that to others. What we will concentrate on is how we, believers in our God, will respond,” Fr. Herrera said.
“My friends there are certain issues in our society that cannot be solved outside our faith in God. I know and believe that the only answer and solution to the situation that we are experiencing is God Himself, because with God, there is always hope. Without God, there is none — we will be left empty without Him.”
Fr. Herrera said he was born and raised in Odessa, and had a classmate affected by the shooting.
“To us who are the believers in our God, let us push back in the way that God wants us to do so, in the commandment of love, the commandment of mercy, the commandment of forgiveness,” he added.
The U.S. bishops’ conference Sunday also issued a statement in response to the shooting spree. It was the ninth statement the bishops’ conference has made in response to mass shootings in 2019.
“As we travel to Sunday Mass, we do so with heavy hearts. Just a few short hours ago, less than a month after the horrific instances of gun violence in California, Texas and Ohio, yet further terrible shootings took place, this time involving random targeting of victims on roads and highways,” Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, wrote in a Sept. 1 statement.
“Once again, these horrific onslaughts demonstrate unequivocally the undeniable existence of evil in our society. I am deeply saddened to witness yet again scenes of violence and contempt for human life being repeated in our nation’s streets,” Cardinal DiNardo wrote.
“With renewed resolve, I call on all people of good will, starting with our Catholic leaders and faithful, to work tirelessly to root out the causes of such crimes. As people of faith, we must continue to pray for all the victims and for healing in all these shattered communities that now extend across the length and breadth of our land,” the cardinal added.
The bishops’ conference has issued similar statements this year following other U.S. mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, Ohio, Colorado, California and Virginia. Those shootings took place at a Walmart, a downtown area, a garlic festival, a school, a synagogue, and a municipal building. The U.S. bishops also issued a statement after a March shooting at two mosques in New Zealand.
Fifty-three people have been killed in the U.S. by mass shootings this month, according to the New York Times, including the five killed Aug. 31. Twenty-seven of them were killed in Texas.
Quoting Psalm 38, Bishop Sis added that “‘The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, he saves those whose spirit is crushed.’”
Other bishops added similar sentiments.
“May the Spirit of Peace envelop those families mourning the loss of their loved ones and those directly injured by such cruel acts of violence,” Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas, wrote in a statement Saturday.
“Our prayers are with everyone directly impacted by this senseless and horrific act in the Midland/Odessa area. Let us pray for everyone’s safety, especially first responders and those whose heroic actions have saved lives already,” he added.
Bishop Seitz, whose own Diocese of El Paso suffered a mass shooting Aug. 3 in which 22 people were killed, offered in his Aug. 31 statement a petition that the Holy Spirit would “illumine our hearts and minds to reverence and respect God’s extraordinary gift of life.”
While the Saturday shooting spree was still ongoing, Bishop Robert Coerver of Lubbock, Texas, tweeted to request prayer “for our neighbors in the San Angelo Diocese in the midst of an ongoing active shooter situation in the Midland/Odessa region.”
Several U.S. bishops took to Twitter Saturday to express dismay or call for prayer after the shooting spree. Among them were Beaumont’s Bishop Curtis Guillory and Washington’s Archbishop Wilton Gregory.
Bishop Sis’ statement addressed the surge in mass shootings experienced across the U.S. in recent months.
“There are no easy answers as to how to end this epidemic of gun violence in our state and our country. I ask the Lord to enlighten all of our hearts and minds, especially our government leaders, so that we can have the insight and the courage to move from a culture of death to a culture of life.”
“Our local churches are committed to helping our community to heal from this senseless tragedy,” he said. There are seven Catholic parishes in Odessa and four in Midland.
After a spate of at least three deadly mass shootings within one week of each other in late July and early August, the U.S bishops’ conference called for the passage of “responsible gun laws and increased resources for addressing the root causes of violence.” The bishops’ conference has repeatedly made such calls in the aftermath of mass shootings.
In their Aug. 4 statement, the U.S. bishops urged President Donald Trump and members of Congress to “set aside political interests and find ways to better protect innocent life.”
That statement also called Catholics to “increased prayer and sacrifice for healing and the end of these shootings,”
“We encourage Catholics to pray and raise their voices for needed changes to our national policy and national culture as well,” the bishops said.
The bishops called mass shootings “an epidemic against life that we must, in justice, face.”