A short life bookended by tragedy

Capecchi

By Christina Capecchi

The youth choir Christina Green belonged to performs just once a month, on the second Sunday at the 9 o’clock Mass. And sure enough, the day after the 9-year-old was killed in Tucson, Ariz., the youngest victim of the shooting targeting Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, St. Odilia’s youth choir sang.

It was Jan. 9, the feast of the baptism of the Lord, and there was just one baptism at that Mass, a 9-year-old girl. 

That wasn’t lost on Father Richard Troutman, pastor of St. Odilia.

“You realize how small they are,” he told me, “how much potential they have, how you really want to protect a 9-year-old.” 

Fr. Troutman has been a priest since 1968, yet he approached that Mass as if it were his first, putting in extra prayer and still feeling a bit unprepared, like “a work in progress” pastor. He had heard the gun shots the day before and he was just as shocked as everyone else. 

The first reading was done by a child, and the words from Isaiah seemed fitting. “Thus says the Lord: Here is my servant, whom I uphold … He shall bring forth justice to the nations, not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street.”

In his homily Fr. Troutman spoke longer than usual, preaching about mystical union with God, a state that is preceded by unnecessary death. Baptism propels us toward community engagement and service, he said, which leads to events like “Congress on your Corner,” the public gathering where Christina was killed.

Then came the prayer of the faithful, with one petition for all of Saturday’s victims and one for Christina. 

Communion was the high point, when Christina’s friends in the youth choir performed “We Are One Body,” an apt anthem for a devastated community being fed by the Eucharist. “We do not stand alone,” the grade-schoolers sang. “He who believes in me will have eternal life.” 

There it all was inside that sloping church on the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains, where the desert heat meets the snow-capped peaks: darkness and light; silence and song; grief and hope; one more baptized member, one less. 

“Faith and doubt go really close together,” Fr. Troutman said on the eve of Christina’s wake. “God is the God of death and resurrection.”

Christina’s very arrival, born on 9/11, demonstrated that strange juxtaposition. Her mom says she took pride in being a grace note to a dark day. And surely Christina feels the same way about the loving acts performed after the Tucson shooting: parents who extended their kids’ bedtimes, giving an extra kiss or cookie; neighbors who offered heaping helpings of pasta and prayer.

The older I get the more I accept the contradictions in life, understanding how tears and laughter can mingle, springing from what feels like the same origin. Life’s contrasts bring meaning, just as a symphony has crescendos and decrescendos, rests and triplets.

I’m also coming to appreciate the richness and rhythm of the liturgical calendar. Sometimes we fall into stride with it, naturally matching its tenor. Sometimes its melody feels miles away, but we hear the invitation and jump in at a key change, singing out or humming along.

This short month is hinged on Valentine’s Day, and in Christina’s honor we should interpret it broadly, to gather all the love we can, to nurture it, celebrate it and act on it.

(Christina Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minn. She can be reached at www.ReadChristina.com.)

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