What was your immediate reaction to the high school shooting in Florida that claimed the lives of 17 students and teachers?
I can’t imagine the fear and the trepidation that the kids experienced, as well the fear that their parents experienced. This will affect these kids emotionally for the rest of their lives in one way or another. When people commit such heinous acts, they take none of that into consideration. Between what’s happened in Florida and also with the increase in murders in New Orleans, what has come to my mind are the words of St. John Paul II, who said we are living in a culture of death and must transform this culture into a culture of life. When you examine these tragic events, we really are living in culture of death, where human life is not respected.
How do we change a culture of death into a culture of life?
Unfortunately, I think it’s going to take a very long time. We’ve become complacent in hearing about all these tragedies. How many school shootings, how many church shootings have we had in the last couple of years? We’ve become sort of numb to these things. This calls for prayer; it calls for us talking to our kids; it calls for us as religious leaders and teachers in our schools to discuss these things with kids so that they can come to a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the dignity of human life.
Mardi Gras was a beautiful day, and then you see the killings that took place along the parade route.
Yes, it’s tragic. When we look at this culture of death, it also important to realize that we’re not just talking about gun violence. Another sign of the culture of death is the opioid crisis around the country. In many ways, that fits into the same category – it’s a lack of respect for human life, a lack of responsibility that people take for their lives. We, as church, need to be aware of the opioid crisis and speak about it. What are we telling our kids in school? What are we telling our young adults, who sometimes go through depression or other challenges? In the archdiocese, we have a healing ministry called the Substance Abuse Ministry (SAM), which was started by Deacon Louie Bauer, and which provides help for those who are either afflicted with or affected by substance abuse. There is an adage about the necessity of prayer and action. It takes both. I’m also reminded that during Lent, we not only do penance for our own personal weakness, but we also do penance for the sins of our society, for the lack of respect for human life that is seen by the killing of children in school, people in churches and people on the streets as well as the opioid epidemic that is claiming so many lives. Jesus tells us, some things can be driven out only by prayer and fasting.
What have the U.S. bishops said about tightening gun laws as one element of a solution to the senseless violence?
On the federal level, we work as closely as we can with Congress, and on the state level, we work as closely as we can with our legislators. We emphasize respect for human life. We also ask the question, why is it that people who are mentally ill, irresponsible or prone to take another person’s life are legally able to purchase guns? How do they continue to have their gun licenses renewed? There’s something wrong with our society. I know you’re not supposed to talk about gun control, but I think, as Christians, we don’t have a choice but to talk about gun control. People who are unsafe and who have little or no respect for human life are using guns they have somehow acquired to show their total disregard for the value of human life. If we’re really going to talk about forming a culture of life, some kind of sensible gun control is essential. Also, we need to do more to care for the mentally ill. As a society, we do not do this effectively.
Does the archdiocese have plans in place to protect its schools and churches?
We have made available to all of our schools and religious education programs an “active shooter” training called “Blessed Are the Peacemakers.” It is a program provided by the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office, under the direction of Sheriff Greg Champagne, who allowed us to adapt it for our parishes. Deacon Edward Beckendorf is the primary contact for the program. Also, I’ve asked all of our parishes to formulate some kind of plan in the case of an incident inside the church. Is it possible to have a concrete plan everywhere? No, but we can put some safeguards into place. For example, we want the parish leadership – and that includes priests, deacons, ushers and extraordinary ministers of holy Communion – to discuss what to do in the case of a disturbance. If we have enough eyes and ears and a plan, it could help in the moment of such a crisis. It’s disheartening, though, when you see a school that has a plan, but despite those precautions, sadly, 17 kids get killed. I pray that the mercy of God comforts the grieving families and sustains the wounded in their healing. I am encouraging all of us to unite our prayers and sacrifices for the healing and consolation of all those who have been affected by violence in these last weeks and for a conversion of heart, that our communities and nation will be marked by peace. Our hope is in the Lord, as he promised after his resurrection, “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20).
Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.