I was looking out my kitchen window when I heard the shots.
I had no clue what they were – some goofball shooting off firecrackers, maybe. I never suspected a gut-wrenching tragedy had just occurred so close to home. When I sit on my back porch, I can almost see the intersection of Oracle and Ina.
But then I got a phone call about the shooting followed by some confused messages that perhaps this girl was a parishioner. It took a while to confirm the awful truth: the youngest victim was, indeed, one of our own, 9-year-old Christina Green, who sang in our youth choir and had made her First Communion at St. Odilia last year.
I’ve been a priest for 42 years, four of which were spent serving as chaplain of the Arizona National Guard, but nothing could have prepared me for this tragedy.
I spoke briefly with Christina’s parents, Roxanna and John, on Saturday. I could tell poor John was in shock. This was Daddy’s little girl. There is no pain like losing a child. No matter the age or time, you can’t help but wonder, “How come I didn’t go first?”
Later that day I watched John and Roxanna’s CNN interview – so strange and sad to see parishioners thrust in a national spotlight.
A Little Leaguer with big heart
Christina was a third-grader with gumption, a member of Mesa Verde’s student council and the only girl on the Little League baseball team. She had been known to hit better than the boys.
For all that feistiness, there was tenderness too – a big heart and an innocent faith that drew her to animals and compelled her to volunteer at a children’s charity.
What a loss.
My mind turned to the Sunday Masses, where a stunned, devastated community would soon gather.
Joyful Noise, the youth choir Christina sang in, performs just once a month at the 9 o’clock Mass. Sure enough, they were scheduled to sing on Sunday, the day after the shooting, the feast of the Lord’s baptism. Bravely and beautifully, they lifted their voices in song, though they were one soprano short.
Walking up to the ambo to give my homily, I felt all eyes on me. This, I knew, was my chance to offer a little wisdom and hope.
I had prayed to be a channel of the Holy Spirit. I had been planning to speak about the mystical union – that heightened, profound connection with God. I was going to explain unnecessary death, state six before mystical union, with an example from the movie “True Grit,” but I replaced it with the unnecessary deaths that had happened hours ago, blocks away.
I usually preach for about 10 minutes, but I took a few more minutes Sunday. There was much to say, and I did feel, in my own little way, I was providing some comfort.
Life after death
Our little soprano has joined a heavenly choir, experiencing a mystical union that never ends. But here at St. Odilia, nestled in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains, it is quieter and darker.
John and Roxanna are operating on borrowed strength and unceasing prayer. It’s one day at a time. Our parishioners have showered them with food and flowers, hugs and cards.
Tonight we open our doors for Christina’s vigil and wake. I ask you to remember Roxanna and John, their son, the extended Green family, and our community as we come together to pray and grieve.
A tragedy like this doesn’t make sense, but we owe it to Christina to keep singing.
Father Richard Troutman is pastor of St. Odilia in Tucson, Ariz.