Children who escaped the deadly mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, sent letters to Pope Francis asking for his prayers — and the pope has replied.
Among the letters forwarded to the Holy Father was one from a child who asks the pope to pray for her friend: “She was fun. We played on the trampoline. She is with Jesus. I miss her.”
On May 24, an 18-year-old gunman entered Robb Elementary and killed 19 children and two teachers. Another 14 children and a teacher were wounded. Sacred Heart Church, less than two miles from the public school, hosted funeral Masses for 11 of the victims.
The letters, many of which included drawings, come from Uvalde’s Sacred Heart Catholic School, where many Robb Elementary students transferred with the help of scholarships from Catholic Extension. The Chicago-based organization helps support Catholic communities in poor or remote areas.
Sister Maria Luisa Aldape, STJ, the Catholic school’s librarian, had sent the letters to Pope Francis through Catholic Extension’s chancellor, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago.
“We have invited the children to write to you and share with you their pain and their hopes for the future. Some bear the scars on their flesh and all in their hearts,” she said.
The letter writers include students who were shot and survived. Some lost friends and family.
On Oct. 5, they got a letter in return from the Vatican addressed to Father John J. Wall, president of Catholic Extension.
“His Holiness will remember the students, their families, and all of those suffering from the recent act of violence in Uvalde,” wrote Archbishop Edgar Pena Parra, the Holy See’s substitute for general affairs of the Secretariat of State.
Parra’s letter in reply said the pope asked him to thank Catholic Extension for forwarding the children’s letters.
“He appreciates the sentiments which led them to share their stories and thoughts with him,” the archbishop said.
The letter from the Vatican reported that Pope Francis is praying for the children.
“Commending each of them to the protection of Mary, Mother of the Church, His Holiness imparts his blessing,” it said.
Letters from the children to the pope
One fourth-grade student drew a picture of the pope to accompany his letter.
“I love art,” the student began. “I was in Robb Elementary. It was scary. But now I’m in a much better school.”
“Hope you can pray for me, my family and friends,” the student continued. The letter to the pope closed with the Catholic school’s motto: “All for Jesus.”
Another letter includes a student’s drawing of the pope smiling and standing between a colorful rainbow and the sun, which is wearing sunglasses. Yellow angel wings and a halo are faintly drawn near the child’s signature.
“I was at the Robb Elementary School and I feel safe now that I am here at Sacred Heart Catholic School,” she writes. “Thank you for praying for Uvalde. But, could you pray for my cousin. He got shot at Robb elementary… and could you pray for me too?”
The letter writer asks if Pope Francis could “come and bless Uvalde.”
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Catholic Extension’s ties to Uvalde
Father Wall, the president of Catholic Extension, thanked the pontiff for his prayers.
“These letters written by Sacred Heart Catholic school students symbolize their pain and hopes for their future as they continue to grieve the loss of life and innocence that struck their community,” he said in an Oct. 26 statement.
Catholic Extension has deep roots in Uvalde. In 1906 the charity sent aid to build Sacred Heart Church and in 1912 it began to fund the construction of the school, which adjoins the church.
The Teresian Sisters, formally known as the Society of St. Teresa of Jesus, have worked at the school for more than a century. With the support of Catholic Extension, sisters from other religious communities have been assisting their work since the start of the school year. Some have helped provide emotional support for students and faculty as well as spiritual comfort.
About 80% of Uvalde families are low-income households. According to Catholic Extension, at least 80 families in total might seek to transfer their students to the Catholic school, including the families of the more than 30 students who have already changed schools. Catholic Extension is asking for donations to its scholarship fund to help meet demand. It is also helping to provide mental health services to Uvalde.
Catholic Extension, formerly known as the Catholic Church Extension Society, was founded in 1905 to help provide the sacraments and other aid to Catholics in remote areas. Today, the organization helps more than 15 million American Catholics. Its work includes grants to build churches and repair facilities. Catholic Extension also provides scholarships for emerging leaders and helps support various ministries. Its website is https://www.catholicextension.org.
“This week, we wanted the children and their families to know that we are praying for them, we love them, and that we will also take action for them. That’s what community is,” said Sister Delores Aviles.