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Praying for shooting victims as ‘family of faith’ is like ‘an embrace’ for community, Nashville bishop says at Mass

Young women embrace as Bishop J. Mark Spalding of Nashville, Tenn., celebrates a Mass March 27, 2023, at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in in Nashville, Tenn., for the victims of the Covenant Christian School shooting on the grounds of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Nashville. Earlier that day, three adults and three children, all age 9, were fatally shot. (OSV News photo/Katie Peterson, Tennessee Register)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (OSV News) — Nashville Bishop J. Mark Spalding celebrated the 5:30 p.m. Mass March 27 at the Cathedral of the Incarnation to pray for the victims of the school shooting that morning at The Covenant School in the city’s Green Hills neighborhood where it happened.

“On this day of such tragedy, we come here to gather as a people who live in hope, in faith and in love,” Bishop Spalding said at the beginning of Mass. “So, as we gather today, mindful of what our faith teaches us, that darkness, sin, death does not have the final word, but light, love, and the victory of Jesus Christ does.”

The shooter, later identified as 28-year-old Audrey Hale, left six individuals dead, including three children, during the mid-morning hours of March 27 at the private Christian school. Founded as a ministry of Covenant Presbyterian Church, it educates students in preschool through sixth grade.

Metro Nashville Police have identified the three child victims as 9-year-olds Evelyn Dieckhaus, William Kinney and Hallie Scruggs, daughter of the senior pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church Chad Scruggs. The three adult victims include school head Katherine Koonce, substitute teacher Cynthia Peak and school custodian Mike Hill.

Hale, who was armed with two assault-type rifles, was fatally shot dead in interactions with officers who responded to the scene.

“We come here to be with and for each other, not only for us gathered here in this church today, but with and for all the people of Nashville and Middle Tennessee that have gone through this day struggling, emotional, tearful,” Bishop Spalding said in his homily. “We come together to be with everyone, and we’re together in our prayer, we’re together in our condolences and our sympathies, we’re together in our love, love for another.

“We are mindful that our faith, our hope and our love overcomes, endures, even through the darkness and the sufferings and pains of life, and today is one of those significant days of tragedy and pain.”

In talking to one another about the shooting. he said, “every time we think of the children, we think of the innocence, and it fills our hearts with powerful emotion, profound sadness, suffering, hurt, so we have to come together.”

“And we understand our words in these kinds of moments are somewhat insufficient, but for you and for our family and friends that we go to in the next hours and days ahead, please make sure you listen with love,” he continued. “Listen and our most profound response can be this. ‘I love you. I care for you. I’m here for you.’ Those words are sufficient.”

He said that he hoped “our prayer here as a family of faith today is like an embrace for our community, that others will know we care and we’re concerned.”

Bishop Spalding noted that the word ‘lament’ had been a frequent one on his mind throughout the day.

“Lament is a prayer or a poem or a song in which we cry out to God in our suffering and in our pain,” he said, “and we tell him, ‘Here is my hurt, here is my anger, here is my frustration, here is my woundedness and my weakness. Help me God. Help me in this moment.'”

“And God will,” he concluded. “So, let us go through this Mass offering up our prayers, asking God to pour even more love into our hearts so that we can, in so many ways, embrace this hurting community around us.

“God, through the gift of your Son, you have brought life to the world. Send him into our hearts at this time, and as we pray for those family and friends of the lost, may they never forget our
love for them that we show in the name of Jesus, Lord, Savior, victor over sin and death.”

Nearly 150 people were present for the special Mass.

“It was incredibly heartbreaking to hear about the shooting, especially at a school so close to us where a lot of my good friends babysit kids who go there,” said Bridget Hall, a junior at Vanderbilt University, told the Tennessee Register, Nashville’s diocesan newspaper. “I’m in a lot of group chats with Christian groups, and we all just prayed all day long for these kids and for their families, so it was really heartbreaking to hear.”

Reflecting on why she wanted to come to Mass, Hall said, “This is my community and I can’t do anything other than pray for those kids and for their families.”

Lynn Davis, a parishioner of the cathedral, had similar feelings.

“I’d heard about the shooting from a friend of mine whose two daughters went to Covenant School, and I know the heartbreak she was feeling, and I was just stunned,” Davis said. “I turned on the television and just started to watch things unfold and I thought I just need to be with people who love God, trust God and can offer heartfelt condolences and prayers in a way that was meaningful for me.”

The Diocese of Nashville and the Catholic Schools Office encouraged all to keep the victims in their prayers.

“It’s so hard to even find the words because it’s tragic, it’s senseless, it’s a loss of innocent life,” said Rebecca Hammel, superintendent of schools for the diocese.

“They are our colleagues. We know people there and we’re saddened that they’re not only experiencing this but that their lives are changed forever because of this senseless act,” Hammel said. “We grieve with the community. As a private school in this city, we are engaged with fellow private school leaders and we care for one another, so this hits all of us deeply.”

Katie Peterson is a reporter with the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville.

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