My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
We now stand in the wake of another random act of violence that took place in the parking lot of St. Alphonsus Church in Fresno. Two adults were shot and killed. Following the incident, the shooter took his own life in another location. A very serious question is being raised by many – Are we safe in our sacred spaces?
As people of faith, history reminds us that the Church has not been immune to violence. On the contrary, many have died because of their faith. In this country, this has not been a lived reality for us as it is for Christians that live in other parts of the world. However, what we are seeing today goes beyond religious persecution. It involves random acts of violence that are driven by an array of motives that takes detectives days, weeks and even months to clearly identify. Sometimes, the incident remains a senseless tragedy.
We must pause to reflect on how we want to choose to respond rather than staying in a reactionary mode. As people of faith we already know that the evil one seeks to kill, steal and destroy. Our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, responds by gathering His flock when under attacked. When evil seeks to divide us, Christ seeks to unite us. And, there is no greater source of unity than to worship together; to be united as the Body of Christ in Word and Sacrament in the celebration of the Holy Mass. This is the source and summit of our hope! We must not be afraid to come together, to receive and to be sent forth.
As we move forward, I want to encourage you and your families to deepen your commitment to becoming missionary disciples of hope. We are people of light that must remain united in our mission to bring the Good News of Jesus to a world that is darkened by fear and a growing sense of hopelessness. Jesus promises us that the darkness will not overcome the light. Let us not be afraid to gather to celebrate our faith and enjoy the gift of God’s grace that flows into our lives and our faith communities for the common good.
Instead of reacting out of fear, the Diocese will respond to the rise of unpredictable violence by assessing our current security systems so that we may identify where further measures need to be pursued. We are also looking at training resources so that we will be better equipped to recognize and defuse potentially violent situations and rapidly respond should an incident occur.
May the Prince of Peace fill our hearts and dispel our fears. May we all be affective Christian witnesses as we continue our journey together as missionary disciples of hope. Peace be with you.
Sincerely in Christ,
Most Reverend Armando X. Ochoa. D.D. Bishop, Diocese of Fresno