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‘We offered them a safe space’: Texas priest details parish's role helping synagogue hostage families

Good Shepherd Catholic Community Parish in Colleyville, Texas. / Screen shot of Twitter post

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 18, 2022 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

When a gunman entered a nearby synagogue in Texas and took four people hostage, including the rabbi, Father Michael Higgins and his Catholic parish sprang into action. 

“We got a call from the police that they were looking for a safe space for the wife and daughter of Rabbi Charlie and for the spouses of the hostages out over at the synagogue,” the Franciscan friar said during his homily on Jan. 16, the day after the attack. “We offered them a safe space.”

The family members hid at his parish, Good Shepherd Catholic Community in Colleyville, Texas, located just a minute’s drive away from the synagogue, Congregation Beth Israel. They stayed for more than 12 hours, he said, as the parish staff cared for them.

“I really want to mention this because I think it really is an indication of how well the message of how we should deal with those in need has really seeped through the community here,” Higgins said.

The gunman, identified as 44-year-old British citizen Malik Faisal Akram, attacked during synagogue services that were live streamed. Law enforcement fatally shot Akram, who appeared to demand the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a convicted terrorist imprisoned in Texas after being found guilty of attempting to murder American soldiers and officials in Afghanistan. 

The hostages were uninjured.

During the more than 10-hour standoff between Akram and authorities, Good Shepherd opened its doors to law enforcement, media, faith leaders of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, and the hostages’ family members.

The parish attempted to separate the press from the family members.

“What we were trying to do is give the families a safe space and we didn't want the press to be notified that they were there,” Higgins said. “So we sort of blocked off the church hall and allowed the press to use the facilities in that area.”

He wanted the families to have their own space, he said, “because you can imagine the terror that they were going through.” 

But Higgins also stressed the good during the attack.

“I think these events really show what the worst that humanity can do and what the best of humanity as well,” he said. 

He thanked parish staff and members of the parish community — as well as those that brought them food during the attack.

“Christianity has a lot of traditions within it that we receive from our Jewish brothers and sisters,” he added. “And one thing that really highlighted that yesterday was that we were deluged with food.” 

“All of that is to point out that there is a lot of good and there's a lot of good that goes on behind the scenes that's not celebrated,” he concluded. “Too often we focus only on the negative things and we don't celebrate all the positive things.” 

He credited the example of the faith of the Blessed Mother. 

“I can't say that I'm more proud of what this community was able to do,” he added.

As soon as all of the hostages were declared safe, Bishop Michael F. Olson of Fort Worth took to Twitter to thank God and the local Catholic church led by Higgins.

“Thank you to the parishioners of [Good Shepherd] and their pastor Fr. Michael Higgins, TOR, for their assistance and charitable support for first responders and families of hostages,” he tweeted.

The bishop retweeted Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory of Washington, who also expressed gratitude.

“We thank God for the safety of the members of Beth Israel in Texas,” the cardinal wrote. “Thanks also for the successful work of those public safety officials.  We stand with our Jewish neighbors as they confront violence. May all who suffer hatred in their places of worship know of our prayers.” 

'Devastated' Traditional Latin Mass devotees petition Arlington bishop to ease restrictions

Priest celebrating the traditional Latin Mass at the church of St Pancratius, Rome / Thoom/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 18, 2022 / 17:17 pm (CNA).

Supporters of the Traditional Latin Mass are petitioning Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, to lift restrictions he recently imposed on the celebration of the sacraments in the Extraordinary Form. 

“In the spirit of the Synodal Path that the church has embarked upon, we humbly ask that you engage in consultations with the faithful of each parish church potentially affected by restrictions on the Traditional Latin Mass,” says the petition, which was published on the petition website Change.org on Jan. 14. 

“And we pray fervently that you might offer permission to allow the Extraordinary Form and other traditional sacraments to continue across the Diocese of Arlington.”

The petition had garnered more than 1,000 signatures by 6 p.m. EST on Tuesday, Jan. 18.

The Diocese of Arlington is one of the two Catholic dioceses in Virginia. Its territory covers the northern part of the state. Twenty-one of the diocese’s 70 parishes offer the Latin Mass, one of the highest percentages among U.S. dioceses. 

In early January, Burbidge issued a statement concerning the celebration of the Mass in the Extraordinary Form in the diocese. While Burbidge did not restrict any of the existing Latin Masses in the diocese, he said there is to be no “scheduling of new celebrations of the Sacraments (such as baptisms and weddings) in the Extraordinary Form.” 

“Those which have already been scheduled are permitted to continue as planned,” said Burbidge. 

Burbidge issued his directive as a response to the “responsa ad dubia” published by the Vatican on Dec. 18. Among the things listed in the responsa, the Divine Worship congregation said that, according to Traditionis custodes, sacraments cannot be celebrated using the liturgical books Rituale Romanum and the Pontificale Romanum promulgated prior to the Vatican II reforms.

In a letter to bishops accompanying Traditionis custodes, Pope Francis said that the celebration of the Latin Mass “is often characterized by a rejection not only of the liturgical reform, but of the Vatican Council II itself, claiming, with unfounded and unsustainable assertions, that it betrayed the Tradition and the ‘true Church.'” 

The pope also lamented that communities dedicated to the Latin Mass had “exploited to widen the gaps, reinforce the divergences, and encourage disagreements that injure the Church, block her path, and expose her to the peril of division.”

The petition says those characterizations do not apply “in any way” in the Arlington Diocese.

“Traditional Latin Mass attendees in this diocese are marked by deep reverence and love for the Church and a burning desire to live our Catholic faith as fully as possible, not a sense of disunity and schism,” it continues. 

The petition adds that the laity have been “devastated” at the new restrictions, and that there is a “profound sense of loss and grief at the prospect of losing the ability to celebrate the Mass and other sacraments in the Old Rite.”

“At a time when there is so much darkness and despair in the world and in our country, we find the Extraordinary Form of the Mass to be a beacon of light and hope — one which touches our hearts and nourishes our Catholic Faith,” says the petition. 

The petition was started by Noah Peters, a parishioner at St. John the Beloved in McLean, Virginia. “Peters converted to Catholicism from Judaism in 2020, and his wife was baptized and received into full communion that same year.

After seeing “YouTube traditionalists” discuss the Latin Mass, Peters, 36-year-old lawyer living in Fairfax, was steered in the direction of a parish in the Diocese of Arlington. He said his first experience seeing the Latin Mass in 2019 “blew me away,” and that “any doubt about converting went away immediately.” 

While he had attended the Novus Ordo before, and found it to be “fine, perhaps a bit rote,” he thought “there was something special about the TLM.” 

When Traditionis custodes was released in July, Peters and his wife were in marriage preparation. He told CNA he was “shocked” by the motu proprio. They were married, in the Extraordinary Form, in October 2021. 

“[My wife and I] were totally confused as to why the Vatican would focus on this at a time when the Catholic church is suffering from such a decrease in Mass attendance and belief,” he said. That feeling later became a sense of powerlessness, he said.

“This petition was born of trying to overcome that awful feeling,” explained Peters. He hopes to “give voice to all the people who love the traditional Mass in Arlington” through the petition drive.  

Peters plans on personally handing Burbidge a printout of the signed petition. 

“I am sympathetic to him because he is being placed in an impossible position,” he said, noting that he and his predecessors had helped the diocese become a hub for the traditional Mass. 

“Now he has pressure to go suddenly in reverse,” said Peters. “That is why he asked for our prayers.” The petition, Peters said, reflects those prayers from Catholics in the diocese. 

But for Peters, another motivation is looking ahead to the future. Namely, his own future generations.

“Ultimately, we want others — especially our children — to experience the deep Catholic faith that we have experienced through the TLM,” he said. 

Stretched

Pencil Preaching for Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Synodality and ecumenism require walking together, say cardinals

All Christians are invited to pray for unity and continue to journey together, said Cardinals Mario Grech and Kurt Koch.

Nearby Catholic church reaches out during hostage crisis at synagogue

As the tense hours of a Jan. 15 hostage standoff situation unfolded at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, so too did a manifestation of faith and community at nearby Good Shepherd Church.