After the Jan. 8 shooting that killed six people and injured thirteen, including Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson presided at funerals for two victims – one a personal friend, the other a young girl who had recently made her first Communion.
On two consecutive days, Jan. 13 and 14, funeral Masses were held for 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green and Federal Judge John Roll.
The bishop reflected on a heartbreaking week in a Jan. 18 letter to the clergy, religious, and lay faithful of the Tucson diocese, recounting his experience of a period in which the nation grieved while grasping for answers. Although the shooting suspect, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, has a troubled history of disturbing behavior, his motive for the attack remains unknown.
The following week, Bishop Kicanas reflected, had seen the emergence of hope and solidarity among Tucson residents, many of whom felt shocked and deeply saddened by the violence.
“This past week, so tragic because of the violence that ended six previous lives, that wounded 13 persons, that left families deeply grieving and that shocked our community to its core, also was a week of blessings,” he wrote.
Bishop Kicanas said he was inspired and consoled “to see how our community has pulled together, and to experience the outpouring of love and concern for the victims of the shootings and their families.” Many residents who did not know either Judge Roll or Christina Taylor Green, nevertheless attended their funeral Masses.
A poignant scene met attendees of Christina Taylor Green's funeral at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish.
Among the thousand of people lined up for a half-mile in support of her family, were a number of “angels” outfitted with white cloth wings.
The bishop said they “symbolized for me the Angels of Heaven that certainly surrounded Christina Taylor, and brought her home on that dreadful Saturday morning.”
“Tears welled in my eyes when I stood with Roxanna and John, her parents, and Dallas, her brother, looking up at the 9/11 Relic Flag that came from New York to be displayed at the church.” The young girl's birth had coincided with the terrorist attacks, and her unmistakable smile was featured in a book called “Faces of Hope,” about children born that day.
Celebrating the Mass of the Resurrection, Bishop Kicanas reflected on the precocious young girl's innocence and enthusiasm. He told the congregation that her short life had not been destroyed, but found its fulfillment.
“Christina Taylor went to meet and greet Gabby, her congresswoman,” he said. "Instead she met God, her Father, and Jesus Christ, her friend."
At the same church, the next day, Bishop Kicanas spoke in memory of his friend Judge John Roll. The federal judge was known in his parish as a daily Mass attendee. He happened to be in the line of fire on Jan. 8 only because, after attending Mass that morning, he stopped by the Congresswoman Giffords' public appearance, held outside a local Safeway grocery store.
Within the federal government, Judge Roll was deeply respected as a man who “spent more than 40 years serving the cause of justice,” in Bishop Kicanas' description.
According to local reports, more than 2,000 people attended his funeral – including Arizona Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl, who hope to name a federal courthouse after Judge Roll.
“In the funeral procession to Holy Hope Cemetery, I was brought to tears as I witnessed the respect for Judge Roll and the concern for his family,” Bishop Kicanas wrote.
“Police and firefighters stood at attention,” he noted, as he went on to recall the honor that even strangers spontaneously paid to the respected judge as his coffin passed. “At intersections where the police halted traffic to let the procession through, people got out of their cars to salute or simply stand at attention.”
“We have experienced a tragedy that could have torn our community apart,” he wrote, “but that instead has bound us together.” The bishop is scheduled to participate in a prayer service at the site of the shootings on Jan. 20.