Across the nation schools held a student-led teaching moment on March 14. Tens of thousands of students left their classrooms to protest gun violence in schools and inaction from elected officials to curb that violence during the National School Walkout.
In the Diocese of Belleville, about 110 students from Althoff Catholic High School participated in the walkout. Students and some faculty joined hands and formed a prayer circle on the athletic field behind the school and prayed silently for 17 minutes.
The school also scheduled an officially sanctioned Mass of remembrance of the 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas School in Parkland, Florida. Students held lighted candles and photographs of the slain students and faculty and read brief biographies of the dead.
“We are praying for the violence to end,” said Principal David Harris. “We want our kids to feel safe and we feel they do here.”
However, some parents told school administrators that they objected to any kind of political statement.
Bishop Edward K. Braxton told The Messenger that the students who walked out of classes would not be reprimanded. “They have my complete support,” Bishop Braxton said.
The Bishop also referred to his statement to parish leaders after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla. In the statement the Bishop said:
“Some commentators are saying that many Americans have closed their ears and no longer hear the gunshots; closed their eyes and no longer see the bloodstained bodies; closed their noses and no longer smell the stench of death; and closed their hearts and no longer feel the unspeakable grief and heartbreak of the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, and husbands and wives of those who have been so senselessly murdered. Mass school murders have happened so frequently that we are no longer moved or outraged by them.
“It in my hope and prayer that neither you nor your parishioners are among those who have closed ears, eyes, noses, and hearts to this American tragedy. Please pray that I am not among them either. It is a tragedy not only because they were senseless murders but also because they were preventable murders. I believe every Catholic should be deeply, deeply distressed by our nation’s inability to end or, at the very least, significantly reduce the epidemic of mass shootings.
“I also believe that our parish communities are very appropriate places to hold serious, informed, prayerful discussions and debates about working for reasonable, realistic and responsible national legislation that will make it difficult for people with mental health problems to obtain deadly weapons. I encourage you to consider having such an evening discussion during this Lent. Our Federal Government seems unwilling or unable to do anything. The children who are being buried this week in Parkland, Florida could just as easily be children in our parish communities.”
Mater Dei High School Principal Dennis Litteken said the school planned to hold an all-school prayer. Gibault Principal Russ Hart did not return calls from The Messenger at press time.