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After Highland Park shooting, a new priest tries to comfort his flock

HIGHLAND PARK, Ailing. — Each pew was crammed, and chairs had been pulled out to accommodate the overflow crowd, when the priest took to the lectern and cleared his throat.

The Rev. Hernan Cuevas advised the 1,500 individuals — Catholics and non-Catholics alike, all gathered Tuesday for what Immaculate Conception Church had billed as a Mass of Peace and Therapeutic — a narrative he had repeated repeatedly over the earlier 24 hours. He advised of the joy over his congregation’s homespun float, the frantic run from the parade grounds as gunfire erupted, the anxious hours of claiming the rosary whereas sheltered contained in the church.

Cuevas paused briefly. He stated two parishioners had been killed within the Monday mass capturing. Others have been injured. Then he regarded round.

“Now, the great work of peace and therapeutic begins for all of us, our group,” Cuevas stated. “And I’d say I am blessed that I am right here for you as your new parish pastor. And thanks. Thanks a lot to your help.”

The church crammed with thunderous applause.

How the Highland Park parade capturing unfolded: A marching band, then gunshots

It had been solely 4 days since Cuevas, a 40-year-old raised in a big household in small-town Mexico, had arrived in Highland Park. In one of many two church buildings he now led, “Bienvenidos Padre Hernan Cuevas” banners hung within the hallways. He hadn’t but unpacked, processed his personal emotions and even talked to his mother concerning the horror that unfolded on the parade.

But the priest had been thrust into main his group by the worst act of violence it had ever seen. Cuevas, who’s trim, with darkish hair and a beard, had tried to calm his congregants and others who sought solace contained in the church whereas the gunman was nonetheless on the unfastened. He had gotten prayer requests for wounded church members he had not but met. And now, on this night time, he was on the first of per week’s price of occasions meant to assist them deal with the trauma of all of it.

Watching from the group, Carmelo “Mel” Delos Santos, who volunteers on the church and had himself studied to develop into a priest earlier than falling in love and getting married, thought he heard a tremble in Cuevas’s voice.

“I advised him, ‘I believe you felt the ache,’” Delos Santos, 74, recalled. “I advised him, ‘I believe you felt the ache of the individuals.’ “

Cuevas was the eighth of 9 youngsters born to a Catholic couple in Jalisco and the second to pursue the priesthood. He was in highschool when he first felt a calling motivated by the thought of ​​”bringing that religious energy to individuals,” he stated. He thought he might assist them, he stated, by speaking about God.

A seminary program introduced Cuevas to Chicago, the place he spent a yr mastering English earlier than his ordination in 2011. After 11 years because the priest of a congregation in close by Evanston, Ailing., he was assigned this yr to guide the United Parish of Immaculate Conception and St. James, created when two long-standing church buildings merged. His first day was July 1.

“I simply got here with this pleasure to be with my new group, able to get to know one another,” Cuevas stated.

With little outcry, Chicago’s bloody weekend eclipsed Highland Park’s toll

One of many first actions he participated in was the creation of a DIY float for the annual parade. Parishioners put collectively their providing after the Monday Mass. They draped crimson, white and blue tablecloths over the railings of a trailer and stood a picket cross up within the again. There have been bunches of flowers in patriotic colours tacked in place and banners on all sides: “We want everybody a Completely satisfied 4th of July!!! Please welcome our new Pastor!”

Cuevas had a basket of granola bars at hand out on the route.

The church was No. 38 within the procession. As they waited their flip, Cuevas surveyed the float with pleasure. He pulled out his iPhone and commenced filming, narrating in Spanish. Then there was a wierd sound, tough to make out over the highschool marching band. Cuevas abruptly stopped recording.

“This could not be,” thought Angie Nutter, 71. 9 years earlier, her 20-year-old son, Colin, had been shot to demise in one of many only a few killings reported in quiet, Mayberry-esque Highland Park. She had turned to religion to make sense of her loss, generally attending church twice a day. This, she thought as she heard the gunfire, “is what occurred to him.”

A wave of individuals crashed in direction of the priest and his individuals, amongst them two youngsters with bloodied shirts. Catechists gathered them, and so they all began to run till they reached the church. About two dozen individuals poured inside Immaculate Conception as sirens blared and a frantic manhunt for the shooter started.

Looking on the group in entrance of him, most of them scanning their telephones for updates, Cuevas noticed worry, anxiousness and panic. He centered his ideas on God.

“I took the mic, turned on the sunshine and stated, ‘Let’s pray,'” he recalled.

Comforted, Nutter texted her husband and daughter, who have been frightened and unable to get to her: “I’m protected at church.” Cuevas and church workers handed out water, together with the granola bars he’d deliberate to present to spectators.

Later, when it was protected, the priest walked among the parishioners dwelling.

In a message to his household in Mexico, he stated he was okay and would speak to them quickly. He watched his cellphone video from the parade twice and debated deleting it. He stated he had “vivid recollections, nonetheless in my thoughts, of every part that I noticed.”

Delos Santos had deliberate to be on the parade together with his church however stayed dwelling due to sciatic nerve ache that makes strolling tough. He cried when he heard what occurred, realizing that “I would not [have been] capable of run.” He stopped to gather himself whereas speaking about it: “It is simply that, if I recollect it, I develop into emotional.”

He stored serious about the 21-year-old who killed seven individuals and wounded dozens of others. He could not perceive it. Was the satan working within the “child,” who was a classmate of his nephews and somebody he had seen round city? Does he have a conscience? A coronary heart? He talked to the priest about it.

“I requested him, ‘What do you assume is within the thoughts of that man? That child?’ And he simply smiled at me. He says, ‘I can not decide him,’” Delos Santos stated. “And that is all. After which he modified the subject.”

That, he stated, confirmed a power of religion that will get Cuevas by a primary week like no different.

There was nonetheless a lot for him to do. He led each day Mass, joined a rabbi in talking at a candlelit vigil and held particular companies for the victims. He prayed for a parishioner who was grievously injured within the capturing and later died within the hospital.

He was at work planning a Saturday morning procession from the church to the memorial that had sprung up close to the scene of the capturing.

By it, he stated he was counting on religion to get by per week of ache, confusion and worry. It was on the middle of the readings he selected, and on the middle of his message.

“You can’t depend on our personal peace, as a result of we are able to simply break that peace,” he stated. “You want one thing stronger.”

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