Catholics grieve, pray after Highland Park shooting

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Tuesday, July 5, 2022

People in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, Ill., visit the site of a July 4, 2022, mass shooting that took place during the city's parade for Independence Day. (CNS photo/Cheney Orr, Reuters)

The day after a man climbed onto a rooftop and shot into the crowd at the Highland Park Independence Day parade, those who were there and those otherwise affected looked to their faith to help them keep going.

Members of Immaculate Conception-St. James Parish prepared for a Mass to be celebrated the evening of July 5 by Cardinal Cupich and Auxiliary Bishop Jeffrey Grob. Immaculate Conception Church, 770 Deerfield Road in Highland Park, is less than a 10-minute walk from the site of the shooting, and members of the parish, including new pastor Father Hernan Cuevas, took shelter and prayed in the church after being told by police to evacuate the parade route, according to parish receptionist Celia Narres. (Cardinal Cupich’s statement on Highland Park tragedy)

One of the seven dead was Nicolas Toledo, a 78-year-old grandfather, who had been a parishioner at St. James, the Highwood parish that united with Immaculate Conception Parish on July 1. Toledo had lived in Mexico and in the Highwood area, and had been visiting family in Illinois for a couple of months when they all went to the parade, according to a GoFundMe page posted by his granddaughter; media reports said he was shot three times. His son and his granddaughter’s boyfriend were among the wounded.

Narres said she was in the Immaculate Conception parish office before the parade July 4, helping print flyers about the religious education program to be handed out along the parade route. Once they were done, she walked home, greeting families headed to the parade along the way.

“It was such a beautiful morning,” she said. “Everyone was saying, ‘Happy Fourth of July!’”

It wasn’t long after she arrived that her daughter told her to check her phone; another daughter, at work in a store in downtown Highland Park, was barricaded in the store after hearing the shots and seeing people dead and wounded.

Narres called the driver of the parish float, another staff member. The float had not yet made the turn onto the main parade route when police told participants to disperse, but he didn’t yet know why.

That was when staff members took shelter in the church and prayed as police ordered people in the area to stay indoors while they searched for the suspect, who was apprehended hours later.

Marvin Sabido, operations director at Most Blessed Trinity Parish in Waukegan, is a parishioner at Immaculate Conception-St. James and was on the parade route when the shooting happened. Sabido has been a volunteer with the Highland Park community response team for more than 15 years, and was on a bicycle patrolling the route when he heard the shots.

“Especially on the Fourth of July, you always wonder if it’s fireworks or if it’s gunshots,” Sabido said. But the sound of gunfire, especially rapid fire from a high-powered rifle, is “more consistent,” he said, and he quickly began working to evacuate people from the area as safely as possible.

“People were screaming and saying, ‘What’s going on?’” Sabido said. “We just kept telling them, ‘Go, keep moving.’ And you hear people saying, ‘I forgot my phone.’ Or ‘I forgot my chair.’ And you tell them, ‘Just go.’ You just try to help people go as quickly and orderly as possible.”

Father Timothy O’Malley opened Immaculate Conception Church in Waukegan and exposed the Blessed Sacrament for prayer at 2:30 that afternoon, and that evening, Sts. Faith, Hope and Charity Parish in Winnetka and Sts. Joseph and Francis Xavier Parish in Wilmette hosted a memorial Mass in the evening at St. Francis Xavier Church in Wilmette.

“We’re people of prayer,” Sabido said. “So we pray.”

The Gospel reading at the July 4 Mass told of the death of Jesus at the crucifixion. Father Marty O’Donovan, pastor of Sts. Faith, Hope and Charity, spoke of the scene that takes place in Luke’s Gospel just before the Gospel reading, when one of the two men crucified with Jesus, traditionally identified as St. Dismas, asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom.

“This was a guy of some ill repute,” O’Donovan said. “Dismas, the guy that no one thought anything of, had the courage and wisdom to find his voice. In finding his voice, Dismas was guaranteed a place in heaven. … There’s times when I can’t find my voice, there’s times when I swallow my words and say, ‘We’ll figure it out later.’”

But people of faith must speak up, he said, even when it’s easier not to. Gun violence, he said, is a life issue, and Catholics must address it.

Everyone should pray for the victims of the shooting: the dead and the wounded, those who love them, those who were there and had their worlds shaken, he said.

“But you know what? That’s the easy stuff,” he said. “My prayer this night, for me and maybe for you, is that we find our voices.”


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  • mass shooting

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