LOVE Wraps Its Arms Around Sutherland Springs, Texas
by Sonja Harris on November 14, 2017 at 9:49 AM
Just one week after 26 of its members were murdered and 20 more seriously wounded by a deranged gunman, the Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church held its Sunday morning service. Only this time, it was at the nearby baseball field, not in the church building.
In the afternoon, people from all walks of life and from places throughout Texas and other states as well came to pay their respects. Despite a persistent rain, people young and old brought flowers, stuffed toys, candles, cards of condolence and love notes and laid them at the line of memorial crosses that had been erected near the church on US 87 South attempting to give comfort to the families that have been deprived of their loved ones.
The love that is pouring down on the small town was like the rain that fell to ease their pain. The emotions are still raw and very much in evidence by the people who came to view the crosses and mourn by singing, praying, crying or just standing quietly lost in their own thoughts. It’s very difficult to see the names and images on the crosses without tearing up.
When we arrived, there were 50 or more praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, having travelled from St Peter and Paul in New Braunfels, St Thomas the Apostle in Canyon Lake, and Sacred Heart in Floresville. A gentleman was carefully placing a red rose on each cross, a moving expression of love and remembrance. "
For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world."
Besides flowers, I left a letter that had been distributed or read to all Catholics in the San Antonio Archdiocese attending mass on Saturday and Sunday. The letter came from the Vatican addressed to Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller.
It reads: Deeply grieved by news of the loss of life and grave injuries caused by the act of senseless violence perpetrated at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, the Holy Father asks you kindly to convey his heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and the wounded, to the members of the congregation, and to the entire local community. He asks our Lord Jesus Christ to console all who mourn and to grant them the spiritual strength that triumphs over violence and hatred by the power of forgiveness, hope and reconciling love.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin
Secretary of State
On November 5, Texas Governor Greg Abbot said, “There are no words to describe the pure evil that we witnessed in Sutherland Springs today.” “May God Comfort those who’ve lost a loved one, and may God heal the hurt in our communities.” He ordered the flags be flown at half-staff until November 9. And on November 8, he declared November 12 a day of prayer to honor and remember the lives of those lost.
In less than a week volunteers were able to transform the church into a memorial. Windows and ceiling tiles were replaced, all chairs, pews, equipment and carpet were removed and the walls, ceiling, and the floor were all painted white. Brad Beldon handcrafted the chairs that are now in the church. The media was permitted to enter the church prior to the public which were allowed at 5pm. I was not ready to enter, but I will one day soon. The memorial will be open to the public daily for the foreseeable future.
Among the 26 church members killed were:
Bryan Holcombe, Karla Holcombe, Megan Hill, Emily Hill, Greg Hill, Crystal Holcombe and her unborn baby, Joann Ward, Brooke Ward, Emily Garcia, Peggy Warden, Dennis Johnson, Sara Johnson, Keith Braden, Robert Corrigan, Shani Corrigan, Tara McNulty, Lula Woicinski White, Annabelle Pomeroy, Haley Kreuger, Karen Marshall, Scott Marshall, Therese Rodriguez, Ricardo Rodriguez, Noah Holcombe, and Marc Daniel Holcombe. Nine members of the Holcombe family will be buried which seems almost too much to bear.
The burials have just begun and will continue in the coming week. The Sutherland Springs cemetery is where Therese and Ricardo Rodriguez were buried on Saturday. Their graves are marked with an overwhelming amount of love, covered with flowers. Sutherland Springs, Texas can never be the same because they have suffered a tragedy of unspeakable proportion but it is very apparent that the people will rise above this and survive because they come to, ‘Hear the word of the Lord’. These words are written above the entrance of the church, Jeremiah 7:2
There is a question whether to leave the church as a memorial or to raze it. We must continue to pray for the families and the people in the community that they find peace in their lives and one day forgiveness in their hearts.
Bill Harris co-authored this article.