Many turn to El Paso’s Catholic traditions following massacre

Friday, August 16, 2019

EL PASO, Texas (AP) — The growing memorial for victims of the El Paso massacre reflects the city’s deep roots in Catholicism: A painting of the Virgin Mary sits among teddy bears and candles embellished with religious imagery. White crosses are adorned with countless rosaries.

Founded by Catholic missionaries, the largely Hispanic city has 75 Catholic churches, including many that are pillars of their communities. Their fundraising bazaars known as kerméses are treasured events that draw hundreds of people with homemade food, music and games. In this time of tribulation, many of El Paso’s people turn to religious traditions for comfort and strength.

At Wednesday morning mass in St. Mark’s Catholic Church, 57-year-old Margarita Segura said the sermon about persevering in one’s faith resonated with her.

“That’s what I’m drawing on right now,” Segura said, explaining that the community and the nation can’t let the shooting “break our faith.”

Hundreds of people come and go at the memorial just north of the Walmart where a gunman opened fire on Saturday, leaving 22 people dead and about two dozen wounded. The white shooter reportedly targeted Hispanics, and eight Mexicans were among the dead.

The visitors drop off flowers, balloons, teddy bears and religious items. Sometimes large prayer circles are formed. Others sit vigil and pray the rosary, a string of beads with a cross at the end. The rosary includes several prayers that take at least 20 minutes to finish.

Maria Tovar was alone as she silently prayed the rosary for the victims.

“So many things happen every day, and this is the way I find peace,” Tovar said.

The missionaries who founded El Paso mixed their traditions with those of indigenous peoples, said Father Arturo J. Bañuelas, a lifelong resident who heads St. Mark’s. That “created a vibrant new expression of faith, where faith was not associated any longer with just an institution, but a way of living that influenced people’s way of life and their values.”