Apr 11, 2014

Community unites to pray, seek God's grace, healing after tragedy


(CNS photos/Mary Seamans, The Catholic Accent

By Elizabeth Fazzini
Catholic News Service

MURRYSVILLE, Pa. (CNS) -- Stunned by an early morning tragedy, the Murrysville community gathered at Mother of Sorrows Church April 9 and asked God to send his Holy Spirit into their community to dispel the darkness and fear and lead them into the light.

The parish held a candlelit service on the evening of a violent incident at nearby Franklin Regional Senior High School, Murrysville, where 21 students and an adult security guard were stabbed in a knife-wielding rampage, according to Westmoreland County Department of Public Safety spokesman Dan Stevens.

News reports April 11 said eight students remained hospitalized, including four in critical condition after one was downgraded. The suspect, 16-year-old sophomore Alex Hribal, has been arraigned and charged as an adult.

More than 700 people -- some of whom were embracing and showing quiet, yet visible, signs of distress -- filled the large church and prayed for everyone impacted by the violence.

Rows of police officers, first responders and young people stood shoulder-to-shoulder along the back wall; nearly 350 Franklin Regional High School students are parishioners of Mother of Sorrows Parish, which is near Pittsburgh.

Father William J. Lechnar, pastor, who led the prayer service, told the assembly it was difficult to put into words the emotions that have surfaced by the painful event.

"This evening we gather asking for God's grace to help us all in a time of darkness and, in a special way, to send his healing power on those who are recovering and still struggling from wounds that have injured both body and spirit," he said.

"There is no definitive answer to the question, 'Why would God allow this to happen?'" Father Lechnar said, noting that God's gift of free will allows people to choose to follow Christ or stray from his path.

"Even when we are not able to make sense of situations that unfold before our very eyes, we should trust that we are not abandoned or scattered without protection in the darkness," Father Lechnar said.

Mother of Sorrows' parishioner Beth Krauza, a senior at Franklin Regional High School who was not injured during the morning's stabbings, attended the service to support the community and a close friend who received minor injuries.

"(In addition to all the victims,) my heart goes out to his (the suspect's) family," Krauza said. "I can't imagine what his parents are going through."

"No one deserved any of this. Everyone is a victim in this situation," she told The Catholic Accent, newspaper of the Greensburg Diocese. "I'm just praying that we can all find something positive out of this -- and come together especially," Krauza said.

Robert and Darlyn Abel, also parishioners, expressed similar emotions. Their granddaughter is a middle-school student at Franklin Regional. Although the incident didn't directly affect her or her school, the grandparents were troubled. "I was emotionally upset all day," Darlyn said. Both agreed it was important to attend the prayer service, and they were glad they did.

The Abels, too, said their hearts go out to the suspect and his family and that they will be praying that victims and everyone affected by the incident will be able to overcome the devastation. "If everyone treated one another the way they want to be treated, it would be a better world," Robert said.

Father Lechnar reminded people during the service that they were praying for everyone who suffers from emotional distress that could cause them to perpetrate acts of violence.

"And we ask God for his mercy upon them all," he said. "We also pray for those who suffer pain or loss this night, here in Murrysville and those around the world.

"May God's healing power penetrate deeply the lives of us all," Father Lechnar added.

He read a statement by Greensburg Bishop Lawrence E. Brandt, who was not able to attend the service. In it, the bishop assured the victims of the "senseless act of violence" -- as well as their families, friends and school community -- that his prayers and those of the people in the Diocese of Greensburg are with them. "We all suffer when violence shatters lives," he said.

"May God hear our prayers, protect our children, and bring strength, peace and hope to all affected by this tragedy," Bishop Brandt said. Before departing from the church, the assembly raised hundreds of lit candles and joined voices to sing "Let There Be Peace on Earth."

Father Lechnar encouraged everyone to go forth into the community to be bearers of light and peace and instruments of healing. "Help us to travel this difficult road with our eyes fixed on the light of salvation," he prayed. "May the light and love of God be with us this day, and always."

  • Fazzini is assistant editor of The Catholic Accent, newspaper the Diocese of Greensburg.