One of the most repeated phrases in the Bible is “have no fear” or “do not be afraid.” We were not created to live in fear, and this phrase serves as a reminder from God of that fact. From when God called Abram, to the Archangel Gabriel announcing the good news to Mary, God has made it clear we should not be afraid. Pope John Paul II’s iconic inaugural Mass in 1978 challenged the faithful not to be afraid: “Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ.”
When I was a child in Peru, citizens in general lived in constant fear. As a kid I was certainly sheltered from many of the dangers that afflicted the country in the 1980s, but I could not be sheltered from the frequent blackouts, the bombings, and the nightly news showing gruesome scenes of fire, screams, and murders. When on April 1991 the fear struck close, my parents had to make a decision. Having survived an assassination attempt, my father had to carefully choose his response. He dismissed arming himself since he was a firm believer that guns breed more violence. He also dismissed hiring armed security for two reasons.
First, he considered how much he would have to pay someone to take a bullet for him when the moment came. He could not find within himself the appropriate payment for a hired bodyguard. Second, if he hired a bodyguard, he considered the bodyguard’s family. How could he face the bodyguard’s family and loved ones after his or her death? He also considered moving into the city from the countryside, but it would only be a matter of time until the terrorists found us again.
In order to live without fear, my father made the difficult decision to leave everything behind: he brought his family to Augusta, Georgia. Certainly he could have chosen something different, but this was his choice and I respect it tremendously.
There are many in the United States today living in fear when they should not have to live in fear. I find it scandalous and unimaginable that high school students have active shooter drills at school. A high school student should not be in fear for his or her life when entering past the school’s doors. School should be a safe place. I understand and respect the students who have said “enough” and are seeking change.
There are numerous and oftentimes contrary ways to proceed. At a time when there should be an open, frank, and peaceful dialogue, I find it outrageous that so many have resorted to name calling, assumptions, and the failure to recognize the fear with which thousands of students live. Whether the solution is armed guards at every school, increased gun control, arming teachers, limiting entry points at schools, etc., all the options must be considered without bullying and name calling. We have to listen carefully to those crying out due to fear, otherwise we trample over their dignity and ignore their justifiable lament.
My father chose not to arm himself or those around him. I wish more people saw the virtue and strength in that choice. Perhaps that is not the appropriate response for every situation, but it must considered.
After all, if he had chosen differently, I would not be writing this article as a priest for this publication.
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