Union County faith community shares emotional testimonials as Fr. Pawelk calls for a spiritual solution
By Dan McWilliams
St. Teresa of Kolkata Parish in Maynardville hosted a vigil on gun violence Aug. 13, an event prompted by the recent deadly shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.
Glenmary Father Steve Pawelk, St. Teresa pastor, said the issue of gun violence was more than just important to him or to Glenmary.
“I think it’s just important to everyone in the United States,” he said. “We first had the incident in California; two of them were children. Then we had El Paso, where people were targeted because they were Mexican, and that was 22 [dead], including a 15-year-old boy. Then we had the Dayton shooting. It just seems, when’s enough enough?”
How does one respond to the issue, Father Pawelk asked.
“I didn’t want to respond with politics,” he said. “You can talk about mental health. You can talk about banning automatic weapons, assault weapons. You can go through all that kind of stuff, but underneath all of it is a spiritual issue.
“Why in our nation do the mentally ill respond with violence, when that’s not the case in other nations? Why in our nation are people being targeted for who they are, whether it be the shooting in the church in the Carolinas, the black church, or the Jewish synagogues or mosques? Why are we attacking people because of who they are, and so underneath all of that is a spiritual root. And the shooters, they’re part of the body of Christ, but what kind of home life produces people who resort to this violence or have these kinds of ideas?
“So my thought was rather than being depressed or rather than feeling hopeless, the power is in prayer, so I’ve invited the community to come and to pray.”
More than 20 people attended the vigil.
“Whether we have a few people or many people, that’s beside the point,” Father Pawelk said. “What’s important is that we are taking action. There’s a hashtag: #dosomething. Well, whatever we do starts with prayer and community, and so that’s what we’re doing. We’re starting with prayer. We’re listening to stories.”
Father Pawelk said he would have his own story to relate at the vigil.
“I’ll tell the story about McKenzie Lewton, who I brought into the Church and who I buried, because she committed suicide,” he said. “She was a parishioner at St. John Paul II [Catholic Mission in Rutledge], came in [to the Church] as a 17-year-old girl. At about age 22 or 23, she shot herself.”
The St. Teresa pastor based the vigil “basically on the Liturgy of the Hours and the sense of bringing light to darkness.”
At the beginning of the vigil, Father Pawelk said “we gather here as people of hope, and that is what we’re really about.”
Special guests for the vigil were the Rev. Paul Kritsch and his wife, Dorothy. Rev. Kritsch is pastor of Chapel of the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in the Sharps Chapel community of Union County. The Kritsches’ daughter, Margaret Anderson, was killed at Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state.
“It was New Year’s Day in the year 2012 when our lives changed,” the Rev. Kritsch said. “Our daughter, Margaret, was shot and killed in the line of duty. She was a law-enforcement ranger with the National Park Service, not an interpretative ranger who tells you about bears and the flowers. She was an officer who wore a bulletproof vest, carried a sidearm that she often had to qualify to carry. Had more weapons in her patrol vehicle, in whose use she was proficient.
“She would climb down a canyon when you were injured and stay with you through the night and carry you out the next morning. . . . Would rappel off a cliff to retrieve a camera that you dropped, because nothing could be left behind.”
Mrs. Kritsch pointed out that “so often after a tragedy, whether it is a mass shooting or an individual killing, you hear about the shooter, whether he acted individually, what was his mental status, why did he do it, did he leave a manifesto, where did he get the guns, was he a person of interest to the police? However, you rarely hear about the individual or individuals who were killed, so I would like to tell you about our daughter. . . .
“Margaret was a friend to all. She could find good in everyone. When she called home, you felt better at the end of the conversation.”
After a long career with the Park Service, “at Mount Rainier, Margaret was in charge of search and rescue and emergency services,” Mrs. Kritsch said. “When she was killed, Margaret was 34 years old. She left behind a husband of seven years and two daughters. One was 3 and the other one was 1. Her name is engraved on the National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. It’s also engraved at the Washington State Memorial Wall.”
On the day she was killed, Mrs. Anderson was in the Mount Rainier skiing destination of Paradise. She received a report that a car had blown through a checkpoint and was barreling up the mountain. She set her vehicle across the road and blocked the killer’s path, at which time the heavily armed man in the car shot and killed her.
“She is credited with saving the lives of over 120 people at Paradise, and also with disorienting the shooter so much that his plans to proceed up the mountain and perform a mass shooting and then kill himself could not happen,” the Rev. Kritsch said.
The Lutheran pastor spoke at his daughter’s funeral.
“There I said as I say to you today: Margaret put herself between the people whom she had vowed to protect and the evil that was coming up the mountain trying to wipe them out,” he said.
“Though we have had to say goodbye to Margaret here on Earth, we are certain that we will have a glorious reunion with her in heaven. She is a child of Our Lord, and we are so thankful for our savior, Jesus, and for Him providing Margaret to serve as a law-enforcement officer to protect others, even at the cost of her own life.”
At the St. Teresa vigil, candles were lighted for each victim of the El Paso and Dayton shootings. Sue Stone lighted the candles for the El Paso victims, and Nhi Jablonski did so for the Dayton victims. Barbara Quattro read aloud the names of the El Paso victims, and Clifford Jablonski read the names of the Dayton victims. Father Pawelk also prayed for a California Highway Patrol officer who was killed in the line of duty the day before the vigil.