A colleague at WNBF radio told me about the shooting at the American Civic Association minutes after the first police radio reports were transmitted. I’ve covered a lot of news stories over the years and yet my first reaction was, “Are you kidding?” But the brutal truth came out quite quickly. Many dead and several injured, at a place that’s offered help for immigrants and held ethnic festivals for decades. We listened to the radio reports as we prepared for a Lenten Fish dinner at Holy Family Parish. Having no answers…yet lots of speculation on everything…I offered the only advice I could. Pray. Pray for everyone. The victims, the shooter, the first responders. Pray. Deacon Ed Blaine of St. James Church in Johnson City, was on retreat with other members of the Council of Churches staff in Windsor. He soon found himself at the Catholic Charities of Broome County office, just blocks away from the shooting scene.
The Chaplain’s Corps had been activated and he was one of four who helped the families waiting for word on their loved ones. “It was not an easy task. Catholic Charities did a great job. The city did a great job of handling the families,” he said. “They were about as compassionate as they could be. “We grieve our own community being attacked because it was an attack on the community,” Blaine said. “And we grieve for the loss of certain types of innocence, because such tragedies never happen here.” Mary Pat Hyland, a member of St. Ambrose Church in Endicott, found out about the shootings on the internet. She has taught Irish classes and performed with Irish dance groups at the Civic Association. “The Civic Association not only has helped immigrants in terms of preparing them to become citizens here, but it has also also been a place where we’ve celebrated our ethnicity.”
Hyland narrated the Passion reading at her parish on Palm Sunday. “At the same time there were images in my mind flashing of what these people were going through. It just really got to me,” she said. “But at the same time, because of the Gospel, it brought me peace. Even though it’s a dramatic, horrible story, at the same time it brings me peace because you know God’s love is always with us.” Jesus taught us to love our neighbors. In Broome County this week, our neighbors were everyone in the community. Shocked, confused and hurting neighbors of different faiths who came together in prayer on Sunday night. Now the healing will begin.
Deacon Tom Picciano