In the days following the massacre at Robb Elementary School, Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, the leader of Catholic churches across 19 Texas counties, traveled to Uvalde to comfort grieving families. 

Among them were the four children who lost both parents: their mother a teacher who was fatally shot at the school and their father who died of a sudden heart attack two days later. To them, the archbishop asked a question.

“Have you talked to one another about what has been happening?” he said to them. The question prompted a vital conversation in the wake of such a sudden loss. His role, he said then, was to “be a prayerful presence” and to listen.

“We don’t have the answers and maybe we have answers that we are used to, that will fit me in my ministry in other situations,” García-Siller said. “This is a different situation.”

Daily throughout the week following the shooting, the archbishop led services at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, a parish of 690 families, with the pastor, Rev. Eduardo Morales.

Uvalde is part of the San Antonio archdiocese, which reaches from Gonzales County in the east all the way west to Val Verde County. It’s an area García-Siller has led spiritually since his appointment in 2010.

Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller is helping the families of the victims killed in the Uvalde school shooting by presiding over funerals.
Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller is helping the families of the victims killed in the Uvalde school shooting by presiding over funerals. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

On Sunday, García-Siller gave the homily at a mass attended by President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and his wife Cecilia Abbott, Republican U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales of San Antonio, state Sen. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio), and Mayor Ron Nirenberg.

“We must not remain idle, staring at the sky, thinking about the return of Jesus and expecting him to do what He commands us to do. We must assume our responsibility to make God’s love present everywhere,” García-Siller told the congregation.

He then accompanied the president and first lady to a civic center to meet with families of the victims.

On Wednesday, the archbishop will be in the town of Uvalde again — to preside over a funeral for the deceased parents, one of 11 services scheduled at Sacred Heart for victims of the May 24 incident that left two adults and 19 children dead. 

The first was held Tuesday for Amerie Jo Garza, who celebrated her 10th birthday on May 10.

A dozen priests in the area are assisting Sacred Heart and its pastor, including priests from Sabinal and Del Rio, with daily services and funerals, as are deacons from surrounding parishes. Counselors from the area are on hand at the parish school at 401 E. Leona St. to help anyone in need, regardless of religious affiliation.

The archbishop also hopes to talk soon with Adriana Reyes, the mother of the alleged shooter, an 18-year-old man who was killed by law enforcement. 

She has requested a meeting with García-Siller. But he said Reyes has been at the bedside of Reyes’ 66-year-old mother, who is receiving care at University Hospital. Law enforcement officials said the gunman shot her before attacking the school.

Meanwhile, Catholic Charities of San Antonio is working to bring in specialized grief and trauma counselors who worked with people in Newtown, Connecticut, in the aftermath of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The organization has set up a donation page on its site to raise funds for the families who have been affected. 

Catholic Charities also is offering free legal services and financial assistance, said Tara Ford, spokeswoman for the organization. 

The group often works with its national counterpart to lend a hand in times of crisis such as reuniting families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border or following weather-related disasters.

The needs in Uvalde since the shooting are unique and continually evolving, she said. 

On Tuesday, the organization also posted a request for cards and posters as a show of support. 

“This is not a short-term crisis response — this will be long term,” Ford said. “As with any crisis, and as more information comes to us, we adapt pretty quickly and it can change hour to hour in some cases.”

García-Siller said he is grateful for the chance to help those who are in mourning. With words not always enough in such situations, he has been using gestures, he said, learned in recent sign language classes to express care and support. 

“I wouldn’t say it is a lot of work — it is a very delicate work,” he said. 

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.