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 | By Sister Pam Smith

All for Jesus in a Texas Community

I cannot imagine what Mothers’ Day or Fathers’ Day 2024 will be like for the parents of 19 children from Texas. On May 24 it will be two years since those children and two teachers were shot in their classroom by a troubled young man.

What happened that day in Uvalde — a mere 10 days after 10 shoppers had been killed at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York — is still under scrutiny. In the aftermath of these mass shootings and many others, people continue to struggle and grieve and so many of their questions remain unanswered. The “why” questions outweigh the “how” questions. And not surprisingly, some of the questions go from law enforcement officers to educators to psychologists to legislators, and the deeper ones to pastors and directly to God.

In early March, I was among seven sisters from my religious community who spent the better part of a day in Uvalde. The pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church had invited our general superior and council to join two of our sisters who serve on the faculty and administrative team at the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio. The pastor envisioned our visit as a kind of pilgrimage and as a comfort to people there.

So we visited the parish school and a family outreach center, prayed at sites of memorials and met with a professional counselor and the president of the local Chamber of Commerce. The local Knights of Columbus and their wives have maintained the Lenten tradition of the Friday fish fry, and we found hospitality among them just as we had with the parochial school staff and children. The climax of the day took place when we were able to help lead the Stations of the Cross at Sacred Heart with a Methodist minister and his deacon also joining us.

This sweeping review of our itinerary barely hints at the impact of that day. What touched our hearts were the children and the people we met, all of them survivors in one way or another, and the way in which they embody deep faith and are models of compassion.

Throughout the day we heard the motto of the parish and school repeated: “All for Jesus!” Some of the 98 children who attend Sacred Heart went to Robb Elementary, where the shootings took place. Some are siblings and cousins of those who died. Parents, teachers, women serving food, maintenance staff, Knights, parish clergy and the Teresian sisters who serve in Uvalde all lost people they knew and loved.

And so they pray. They remember, even while they also encourage the children to learn and to play and to sing and to do creative projects. We were struck by the strength and enthusiasm of the children’s voices as they sang their school song and the way in which they all shouted a rousing “All for Jesus!” instead of “Cheese!” when they gathered for photos.

Sacred Heart is the home parish of the victims’ families and the shooter’s grandmother — who survived but was also shot and wounded that day by her grandson before he set out to the school. The parish has a full calendar of devotions, Masses, retreat weekends and formation sessions. The pastor emphasizes how important it has been to keep the church open all day and to maintain a full schedule of times of prayer. He also added how important it has been for the parish to host frequent fiestas. While people remember the dead and acknowledge the dreadful evil of the event, which they consistently refer to as “the tragedy,” the priest insists that the practice of faith must also open into opportunities for people to let loose and dance and eat and enjoy one another’s company.

The small town of 16,000 is full of murals that memorialize the slain students and teachers. The sacred and the secular mix in the portraits of children: crosses and rosaries are there with green sneakers, soccer balls, guitars, dolls and images of Spider-Man. The public school counselor shares the way in which statues of her favorite saints have affected her. She has also been on hand as a spiritual counselor for parish ACTS (adoration, community, theology, service) retreats. The president of the Chamber of Commerce talks about civic pride and spiritual recovery in the same breath.

We sisters concluded the day feeling we had participated in a living Stations of the Cross. The excruciating pain that has lined the faces of many of the adults we met — even as they smiled — spoke to us of what was borne by the Sorrowful Mother Mary and the disciples of Jesus on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. We sensed the way in which those present at the cross and its aftermath must have been mystified as we realized the depth of the questions that persist: What possessed the young man to do this? How could it be so easy to order weapons online? Why didn’t someone ask questions when he kept returning to buy so many rounds of ammunition? How did he get into a secure school building? Why did communications break down and cause a delay in law enforcement’s response? These are sadly predictable questions.

But along with them, we could also sense those unspoken deeper religious questions: How is it that God allows freedom of will to people who choose to inflict harm? Why do innocent people, and especially innocent children, suffer? Where is God when all this is going on? Why did he abandon us?

When we saw the faces of adults and children in the school, on the streets of the town, in the KofC hall, in the church, we saw the faces of people whose hearts have been broken for love. At the same time, we also saw confidence and happiness. The people have each other’s backs. They have somehow left their questions at the foot of the cross and risen up with grit and generosity to paint murals, attach photos of loved ones to circles of white crosses, let their children sing, boys to joke and girls to giggle with delight as they talked about their upcoming cheerleading competition.

We sisters witnessed the way in which circles of loving people have embraced the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus and live out St. Paul’s insistence “that all things work for good for those who love God” (Rom 8:28). They are determined that good does and will triumph. We ourselves lived a kind of preface to Pentecost in Uvalde with a community that is indeed “All for Jesus!” — even without clear answers to the hovering question, “Why?”

Sister Pamela Smith, SSCM, Ph.D., is the diocesan director of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. Email her at