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Parish near Colorado school shooting responds with prayer, counseling


Father Gregory Bierbaum, pastor of St. Mark Parish in Highlands Ranch Colo., leads a prayer service May 9, 2019, for victims of a shooting at the STEM School Highlands Ranch in Colorado. Catholic leaders are calling for prayer and action in response to the May 7 shooting inside the charter school near Denver that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math. Kendrick Castillo, an 18-year-old Catholic senior was killed when he "lunged" at one of the shooters to save others. Eight other students were wounded. (CNS photoJoseph Ambuul, The Colorado Catholic Herald)

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (CNS) -- When news of a school shooting May 7 at STEM School Highlands Ranch reached St. Mark Parish, just two miles away, parish staff members immediately began calling the nine families from the parish known to have children at the school.

STEM School Highlands Ranch is a charter school that draws students from across southwest Denver, encompassing several parishes in both the Diocese of Colorado Springs and the Archdiocese of Denver. Fortunately for the St. Mark parish community, none of the children from the parish had been wounded in the attack.

"I've been in touch with all of the families and offered to meet with them," said Father Gregory Bierbaum, St. Mark's pastor. "There were about 11 children affected, and none were injured."

Once it was ascertained that all the children from the parish had escaped physical harm, the next step was to offer support to the middle- and high-school students who may have witnessed the traumatic event. The parish held all-day eucharistic adoration and a prayer vigil May 9, followed by an open-house where grief counselors were available.

"It's important that we come together in difficult times to help each other heal," Father Bierbaum said in a video invitation posted on Facebook. "It's our intent to assist in the beginning of healing. ... we implore Our Lord Jesus to shed light on such a tragedy."

"We were thinking of ways to let the students know that the church was place where they could come and talk about what happened," said Chloe Elder, assistant director of youth and parish catechesis at St. Mark Parish. "That was a big reason why we tried to contact so many counselors and asked them to come."

Although the open house did not attract a large crowd, Elder said she was not discouraged and that the parish will continue to look for ways to reach out to the students.

"It's still so fresh," she told The Colorado Catholic Herald May 13. "They were probably still in shock."

St. Mark will probably follow up with another event in a month or so, perhaps bringing in a counselor to speak about trauma, she said.

Meanwhile, Kendrick Castillo, the STEM School senior who died trying to overcome one of the gunmen, was hailed as a hero, with tributes pouring in from across the nation. A public memorial service for Castillo, who graduated from Notre Dame Parish School in Denver, will be May 15 at 1 p.m. at Cherry Hills Community church in Highlands Ranch. As of May 13, funeral plans were pending.

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Ambuul is editor-in-chief of the Colorado Catholic Herald, diocesan newspaper of Colorado Springs.

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