When Dealing with Tragedy; Going Beyond Thoughts and Prayers

School Shootings- What can I do?

It happened again, another tragic loss of life, this time in Southern Texas.  We thought we were making progress since the tragedies in Parkland, Florida, as the national conversation on safety and gun issues has been occurring in earnest.  And yet, we find ourselves in this spot again.

I know I’ve heard my students share things like; “I can’t believe this happened again,” and “I thought the March for our Lives was going to matter,” and “but we had that school prayer service for Parkland,” and, perhaps most significant “what do we do now?”

The “what do we do now” question is a tough one, because it can be easy to give into the hopelessness and despair of the seemingly never-ending reports of violence and death of young people we hear.  What can we do to combat this tragedy?

This is a difficult question.  Because this issue has various political overtones and every side loudly argues for their respective position without bothering to listen, perhaps the first solution is to foster dialogue between different student groups.  As Pope Francis said in his speech during the praying of the Angelus on Sept. 1, 2013: “I repeat forcefully: it is neither a culture of confrontation nor a culture of conflict which builds harmony within and between peoples, but rather a culture of encounter and a culture of dialogue; this is the only way to peace. May the plea for peace rise up and touch the heart of everyone so that they may lay down their weapons and be let themselves be led by the desire for peace.”

Maybe hosting a town hall or debate could provide an opportunity for students to not only express their ideas, but practice listening to each other.  Panelists from all sides of the issue of school safety and how to achieve it could be invited to come and share their perspective and thoughts for what might bring about solutions.  Only when we are able to start listening to each other and being willing to work together, will real solutions be possible.  An open discussion like this can model these important behaviors for students and help them to act accordingly, together developing ideas that are turned into real solutions to heal our broken society.

Prayer is important, and we can and should pray for all of those affected by this tragedy, as we know prayer is a powerful changer of hearts and minds, but we also need to help our students move from prayer into action.  Our prayer should inspire our action, and our action can inspire the change that will keep these tragedies from happening again.

I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will know trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.   John 16:33

Shortly after the Parkland shooting, we, like many Catholic High Schools across the country, had a student created and student led prayer service remembering the victims of that tragedy in Florida.  Later in the day, I led a prayer service for students who wanted to participate focused on non-violence and peace.  I’m happy to share that Prayer Service, my e-mail is also at the bottom of this post, but as part of that prayer service, after hearing scripture and quotes from Pope Francis reflecting on the dignity of all people, and the importance of dialogue to promote peace, I asked the students present to take a pledge- responding to the question: What will you do to prevent violence in the world and to show dignity to every human person?  They wrote their response to this question, and we displayed those pledge cards in the main hallway of our school.  At our All School liturgy celebrating the end of the school year next week, I will revisit those pledge cards, as not only a reminder to students but as a way to encourage them to take concrete action.

Cari White is the Director of Campus Ministry at St. Edward High School, Lakewood Ohio. You can reach her via cwhite@sehs.net.