Catholic school students choose prayer over walk-outs

Aaron Lambert

On March 14, Denver’s Catholic school students honored the 17 victims of the Parkland, Fla. shooting not by rising to their feet in protest, but by dropping to their knees in prayer.

In the aftermath of the Feb. 14 shooting in Florida, Youth EMPOWER, a branch of young activists affiliated with the Women’s March, declared that March 14 would be a National Walk-Out Day in protest of gun violence. This declaration became a viral social media campaign that reached virtually high school all students in the nation, and mainstream media coverage on the day reported countless schools participating.

Students in the Archdiocese of Denver took a different approach. Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila and Elías Moo, superintendent of Denver’s Catholic Schools, encouraged pastors and principals to hold a 17-minute prayer service at their schools for the conversion of hearts and to intercede for the souls of those who have died in lieu of a 17-minute walk-out protest.

“We believe the first and most important response can and should be to unite in prayer,” Moo said. “At the core of what our country is confronted with today is a great spiritual battle, a battle for the soul of our society and nation.”

(Photos provided by Holy Family High School)

Among the schools that held a prayer service was Holy Family High School in Broomfield. Holy Family chaplain Father Joe McLagan led staff, students and parents in a rosary that morning.

Sophie Schmid, a sophomore at Holy Family, said of the prayer service that she “felt part of a greater spiritual movement for safety and peace.”

In a period of history where the national dialogue in regard to gun control revolves primarily around policy, Father McLagan referred to a Feb. 15 statement issued by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, who said that “…tighter gun restrictions – as vital and urgent as they now are – will not solve the problem. We’ve lost our respect for human life on a much broader scale, and this is the utterly predictable result.”

“Our dignity contains such a reality to it that we need to learn how to forgive, we need to learn how to grow in holiness and learn that our salvation doesn’t come from policy but from the Lord,” Father McLagan said. “A policy is only as good as the virtues in the people. If you don’t have a virtuous people, what expects your policy to be virtuous? It starts with being on our knees and then going into action, not acting without going to our knees.”

COMING UP: Read Archbishop Aquila’s letter in response to the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report

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The following letter written by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila in response to the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report was read at all weekend Masses Aug. 17-18.

18 August 2018

My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I write to you today with great sadness to respond to yet another scandal that has shaken the Church. Even though many of the details in the Grand Jury Report in Pennsylvania had already been reported, the full release was still undeniably shocking and its contents devasting to read. We face the undeniable fact that the Church has gone through a dark and shameful time, and while a clear majority of the Report addresses incidents occurring 20+ years in the past, we know that sin has a lasting impact and amends need to be made.

Many children have suffered from cruel behavior for which they bore no responsibility. I offer my apology for any way that the Church, its cardinals, bishops, priests, deacons, or laity have failed to live up to Jesus’ call to holiness. I especially offer this apology to the survivors, for the past abuses and for those who knowingly allowed the abuse to occur. I also apologize to the clergy who have been faithful and are deeply discouraged by these reports.

Everyone has the right to experience the natural feelings of grief as they react to this trauma – shock; denial; anger; bargaining; and depression. I want you to know I feel those emotions as well – especially anger. I believe the best way to recover is a return to God’s plan for human sexuality. In response to the Archbishop McCarrick revelations, I have written at length about the spiritual battle we are facing. That letter can be found on the archdiocese’s home page – archden.org.

I ask everyone to pray for the Church in Pennsylvania, though these dioceses over the last 20 years have greatly evolved from how they are described in the Grand Jury Report, the Church must face its past sins with great patience, responsibility, repentance and conversion.

Creating an environment where children are safe from abuse remains a top priority in the Archdiocese of Denver. In our archdiocese, we require background checks and Safe Environment Training for all priests, deacons, employees, and any volunteers who are around children. During this training, everyone is taught their role as a mandatory reporter, and what steps to follow if they witness or even suspect abuse. We also require instruction for children and young people, where they are taught about safe and appropriate boundaries, and to tell a trusted adult if they ever feel uncomfortable. We participate in regular independent audits of our practices, and we have been found in compliance every year since the national audit began in 2003.

Finally, while we have made strides to improve our Archdiocese, I am aware that the wounds of past transgressions remain. We are committed to helping victims of abuse and we are willing to meet with anyone who believes they have been mistreated.

I urge all of us to pray for holiness, for the virtues, and for a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. Only he and he alone can heal us, forgive us, and bring us to the Father. Be assured of my prayers for all of you and most especially the victims of any type of sexual abuse committed by anyone.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila