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On Dealing with Tragedy and Violence

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"Exalted be the God of my salvation, who delivered me from my enemies; yes, you exalted me above my adversaries; yes, you delivered me from men of violence." Psalm. 18:46, 48

 

Dear Youth Worker and Religious Educator,

This week’s listserv will focus on resources to assist us in dealing with tragedy and violence. The recent shootings in Tucson, Arizona have shocked all of us and we remain speechless as we try to cope with what has happened. On January 8, 2011, about twenty people were shot at a meeting held by a United States Representative from Arizona, with constituents. The meeting was held outside a local grocery store, where about thirty people were gathered around a table to meet with Representative Gabrielle Giffords. The Representative herself was reported to be the primary target of the gunman, who is now in custody. However, several others were shot, of which six died. Some continue to be under medical treatment. Among those who died was a nine-year old girl who was born on September 11, 2001, and thus had appeared in the book Faces of Hope: Babies Born on 9/11.

How do we understand what has happened? As Christians we are to exhibit God’s love, grace, and forgiveness here on earth. Though we can’t understand why this happened and why God allows this to happen, we are faced with the challenge to forgive those who carry out these evil acts by remaining in God’s love. We are called to pray for God’s love to be poured out on whoever did this. We are also called to pray for those who have been victims of this shooting as well as their loved ones. Pray for peace and comfort for all who have been affected by the event.

When we face situations like these where we see injustice dancing in front of us, we are comforted only through the peace of Christ that is poured out to us. Even Christ had to suffer injustice while he lived on this earth. But his suffering brought us hope because his death has conquered death for us. Through him, we are given a hope and peace that is beyond our understanding.

How do we help our children deal with the shootings in Arizona? The first thing is to reassure them that their world is secure by being there for them. Help them understand that God is with us and even if we face problems in this world, God will be there loving us, holding us and comforting us. God will never depart from us. Christ has promised us to be with us always (Matthew 28:20).

In addition to assuring the children that God is with us and that our lives will still go on, you must listen to them. Ask them how they feel and be patient. You may even have to help them understand what their various feelings are – fear, confusion, sadness, anxiety, etc. – these and others can be very difficult for young children to understand. They will likely be feeling everything you are feeling. It’s important to have them identify them and share them. Having done this, pray with them and help them talk to God about all they are thinking and feeling. Negative emotions are hard to admit sometimes. Anger, resentment and hate can easily be emotions we feel, especially given the nature of the event. It is important for each of us to struggle to understand evil, both in ourselves and in others. God is not the source of evil. He has given us free will. He wants us to choose to do good and loving things but sometimes, in our fallen state, we choose to do evil and hurtful things. Therefore, we need to pray for those who engage in evil acts such as this. As Christians we need to pray for our enemies. Our God is a God of forgiveness, mercy, justice, wisdom, truth and love.

Some children may wonder about the discussions in the media about the events, from issues of gun violence and regulation to the current tone of American political discourse. Some children may look for easy or simple answers to what are very difficult and complex issues in our society. It is natural to do so. Trying to identify a cause, especially a single cause, for this tragedy helps all of us “make sense” out of what are apparently “senseless” events. (As adults, we too may be wondering this. Ecclesiastes 7:10 offers an excellent piece of advice about the wisdom of looking to the past nostalgically, “Do not say, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For you do not inquire wisely concerning this.”)

Our task as youth workers, teachers, parents, and guides is not to provide an easy answer to difficult questions. Our task is to help our children – as is appropriate to their age and capacity – to ask the questions, think about them, and look more deeply into our Faith Tradition for insight and wisdom so that they can make decisions for their lives when it comes to matters like these. The Bible, the lives of saints, the writings of the Fathers all relate stories featuring violence, anger, and tragedy. We should turn to all of them and read them in the light of the present situation.

As we try to cope with this tragedy, let us keep Christ’s words in our minds and teach our children. He said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).

With love in Christ,

The Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries
The Department of Religious Education

Resources for coping with tragedy

* Help for young adults coping with tragedy (cyh.com)

* Article: "Talking to children about death" by Dr. Al Rossi (yya.oca.org)

* Youth ministry article: "Helping teens through grief" (youthspecialties.com)

* JOY session on the memorial service (goarch.org)

* Family Session on "Teaching Your Children About Death" (goarch.org)

* Preventing school violence (waveamerica.com)

In More… What the Church Fathers Say About… (Vol. 3) by Fr. George Grube (Light and Life Publishing), the author has a chapter on anger. The reflection questions could stimulate an excellent conversation and topic of study in a group. Fr George also offers Scriptural references and select quotations from the Church Fathers about anger.

Counseling services and information

*Many schools offer counseling services for students. If you know students who would benefit from speaking with a professional counselor, contact the local school for assistance.

*Help Finding a Therapist 1-800-THERAPIST (1-800-843-7274)

Free crisis hotlines

*Adolescent Crisis Intervention & Counseling Nineline 1-800-999- 9999

*Youth Crisis Hotline 1-800-448-4663 & 1-800-422-0009

*WAVE (Working Against Violence Everywhere) 1-888-960-9600

*Center for the Prevention of School Violence 1-800-299- 6504

*National Hopeline Network 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)