PHOENIX — As his diocese mourns the shooting death of a 28-year-old priest, the bishop of Phoenix says that the only response to violence is "always love and forgiveness."
Bishop Thomas Olmsted said this on EWTN News Nightly in response to questions regarding the June 11 murder of Father Kenneth Walker, a priest ordained only two years ago for the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter.
Father Walker served as assistant priest at Mater Misericordiae Parish in Phoenix. He and his Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter confrere, Father Joseph Terra, 56, the pastor, were attacked late that Wednesday evening in what might have been an attempted robbery. Phoenix police said they believe Father Terra was attacked first and that Father Walker tried to intervene and was shot. He died later at the hospital.
A solemn high requiem Mass was offered for the repose of Father Walker’s soul at 10am Monday, June 16, at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Phoenix.
The details of the injuries sustained by Father Terra had not been released as of press time. On Sunday, June 15, Church officials said that he had been moved the previous night from an intensive care unit and was expected to make a full recovery but would need time to recuperate, CBS5AZ.com reported. Father Terra made the 911 call that brought law enforcement to the rectory.
A reward was offered for witnesses to come forward with information. Father Walker’s car was stolen but later found abandoned.
On June 16, CBS5AZ.com reported that a 54-year-old homeless ex-convict was arrested on charges for Father’s Walker’s death on June 15.
"We live in a very violent society, sadly," Bishop Olmsted said.
Consolation in Christ
Recognizing there might be a temptation to anger, the bishop insisted that the response to the violence must be as "people of great faith and especially of confidence that Christ is with us at this time," he said.
Father Fred Adamson, vicar general of the Phoenix Diocese, said at a June 12 press conference that Father Terra was reportedly able to give last rites to Father Walker, despite his own injuries.
This brings a "great deal of comfort and consolation to us as Catholics, that [Father Terra] was able to extend that in his own suffering," the priest said.
Bishop Olmstead spoke also of that consolation when he reflected on how the Catholic community must respond to such an incident.
"The first thing we do is that we pray for one another; we pray for them especially. But the second thing is, I think, we remind ourselves that our faith prepares us for every circumstance and that Jesus is always with us; and that we believe not only in the dignity of every person, but in the destiny of every person; we are created with an eternal destiny.
"And death for us who have been baptized into Christ, into his death and resurrection, means that death is really a doorway into eternal life. So we pray with great hope, and there’s a great consolation that comes with that — even as our hearts really mourn for the loss of Father Walker and the great injuries done to Father Terra."
Kenneth Walker was ordained a priest on May 19, 2012, with four other deacons of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP). The fraternity was established in 1988 by Pope John Paul II and is dedicated to offering the traditional Latin Mass and sacraments according to the liturgical books of 1962. There are just over 400 priests in the fraternity, according to the order’s website.
Father Walker’s sister, Sasha Keyes, told the Register that her brother "fulfilled his heart’s desire in becoming a priest."
She remembered her younger brother as living always "in the pursuit of more knowledge."
"He wanted so much to know more," Keyes said. "He loved Latin and loved philosophy and logic. Basically, he loved being a priest. Every time I saw him, he would always be telling me, ‘I’m so happy I’m a priest.’"
"He was a brilliant young man," she said, adding that he "was always learning more," from science to photography. "It didn’t seem to matter what the subject was; he wanted to learn it," she said, chuckling.
Keyes mentioned the joy the family is experiencing through their tears: "I think all of us are able to smile because we know that he is in heaven at this point. He had last rites, and it gives us so much peace knowing that he was able to have those special graces."
Funds were raised to aid his large family in traveling to the funeral, held in Kansas, where his parents now live. Keyes said relatives would need to travel from as far away as New York and Alaska.
Bishop Olmsted spoke about the tragedy from the U.S. bishops’ spring meeting in New Orleans.
"We all have to band together and not lose our hope in God’s presence with us; and that he is more strong than even death itself," he said.
The prelate noted his concern for the parishioners of Mater Misericordiae Parish, saying the faithful of the Latin Mass parish "love their priests very much."
"I am also concerned for our brother priests," Bishop Olmsted added. "We are all shaken by something like this, and so we are concerned about safety, I suppose. And when one of your brother priests dies, it is just very deeply moving. It touches a very deep level. I think we pray for one another, that this communion that binds us together in the love of Christ will be deepened by this and will offer us much consolation."
Kathleen Naab writes from Houston, where she covers news of
the Church as a coordinator for Zenit News Service.