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(UVALDE, Texas) — Archbishop of San Antonio Gustavo García-Siller has been traveling to Uvalde, Texas, to “walk with the community” as it grapples with the horrific shooting this past May.
García-Siller spends time with the residents and leads Mass services for the community. For the past two and a half months, he has borne witness to the town’s “collective wound,” he said.
When faced with the magnitude of emotions that accompanies tragedy, words often fail, which is why he’s utilizing another way to make a connection with the children of Uvalde.
The archbishop said he has met with children from the community to encourage them, but when he tried to ask them to express their feelings, they had trouble, likely due to emotional distress. But when he used sign language for words such as “sad,” “happy,” or “peace,” they were receptive and responsive, helping him and their families understand what they were feeling, García-Siller told ABC News Correspondent John Quinones.
The archbishop said one of his first concerns was that children he met weren’t able to communicate their feelings verbally. “It’s hard for people to talk… to express a feeling,” he said. But after sensing fourth and fifth graders’ participation during a partially signed homily, he went home to brush up on his American Sign Language skills. What they could not previously communicate verbally, they were able to through hand motions.
The archbishop could gauge the children’s emotional states, and how they felt sad but desired to feel peace, he said. “It was a breakthrough. I felt so happy that I was able to connect with them,” said García-Siller, who has now integrated the practice into his work with children.
“Because the children trust me,” he said, when asked why he attended a local private school’s back-to-school student-teacher meet-and-greet Monday morning.
Meanwhile, the parents of victims have presented the church leader with deep questions regarding faith and forgiveness, he said. What surprised him was how many parents asked not about why God would take their children away, but rather, if God was with their little girls and boys. “They wanted to know that God was taking care of their child,” he said.
The archbishop described a community aching for trust. He said that while children often gain trust by “just sitting [at] the same table eating cookies,” the adults in Uvalde need “servant leaders” who will reestablish “mutual trust.” The archbishop also said he has a message for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
“We don’t need to show power at this time. Power, at this time, and it will be for a while, diminishes people. We need you to accompany them. To walk with them,” he said. “If mistakes were made, walk with them to resolve them. Don’t bring all that power and all those arms and all that control.”
In the meantime, García-Siller plans to continue to do just that: walk with Uvalde.
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