Las Cruces Priest: God ‘Was Watching Out for Us’ When Blast Occurred During Consecration
On Aug. 2, no Holy Cross parishioners were harmed when an explosive device detonated outside the front steps of the church just 10 minutes before Communion.
Msgr. John Anderson celebrated Mass this weekend with the awareness that God “was watching out” for him the Sunday before — and that he was within 10 minutes of being harmed, along with members of his congregation, by an explosive device planted outside his church.
Instead, when the device was detonated Aug. 2, during the first of the Sunday morning’s Masses at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Las Cruces, N.M., at 8am, the monsignor was intent upon the solemn moment of the consecration, and his congregation was safely in prayer within the sanctuary.
This meant that the explosive device detonated in a trash can outside of the church was able to break the glass doors at the front of the church, lodging shrapnel in the ceiling, but no one was hurt.
“If it had been 10 minutes later,” Msgr. Anderson reflected, “after we finished Communion, I [would have been] standing there [in the gathering space]; the deacon would be standing there; the people would be coming out; we’d be shaking hands.”
And had it been detonated at a later Mass, he noted, with more parents and small children in attendance, they could have been in danger, as the gathering space is the normal place for parishioners to step out of Mass with youngsters needing attention.
‘There Was a Boom’
As it happened, Msgr. Anderson had just said the words, “Take and eat; this is my body,” and then, as he recounted, “There was a boom. … I heard what sounded like a shotgun blast.”
The doors of the church and the gathering space were closed, stifling the sound, and the monsignor continued with the consecration. It wasn’t until he was beginning to distribute Communion that a police officer arrived and asked everyone to leave the church from the side doors.
“[The explosive device] was built, I think, not just to make a sound,” the monsignor remarked. “It was built with the idea that the shrapnel … would have caused a lot of damage. I don’t know that it would have killed somebody, but it would have maimed.”
The explosive device at Holy Cross was one of two bombs that went off in Las Cruces that morning. Another was detonated earlier at Calvary Baptist, around 8:20am. No injuries were reported from that explosion either.
“Investigators believe the two explosive devices could have caused serious injury or death, had someone been within close proximity at the time of detonation,” a statement from the Las Cruces Police Department noted.
At a press conference Friday afternoon, a representative of the FBI and the Las Cruces chief of police, as well as Gov. Susana Martinez, requested anyone with information on the crime to call in with tips.
Msgr. Anderson explained that only two people were in the area of the gathering space at the time of the explosion: a parishioner manning a coffee table and a custodial worker; the parishioner, Craig Bullock, called the police. Neither was hurt.
Bullock commented on the event at NMPolitics.net, noting that, “at first, there was a sense of bewilderment and disbelief, but it quickly turned to one of courage and resolve. A resolve to not give into fear. A resolve to not be deterred from our routines and habits and practices of worship and fellowship.”
That fellowship was already in evidence later that afternoon, at an interfaith gathering: A unity prayer service was held at a park, gathering some 150 people from area churches.
“I felt so warm, so touched, by my brother ministers who came [and] people from my own church who were there,” the monsignor said.
Msgr. Anderson also reflected on how the explosive devices linked together Calvary (the name of the Baptist church) and the cross (the name of the Catholic parish).
And reflecting on how he has taken the experience to prayer, he said, “A prayer of thanks … was our first prayer. And then to pray that God would … help the individual to turn [himself] in and get some help.”
A message from Las Cruces Bishop Oscar Cantú expressed a similar invocation: “Let us pray for each other. Let us pray for peace. Let us pray for the perpetrator(s), that they might discover the joy of peace and forgiveness and leave behind the frustration of hatred and violence. We pray for our first responders and those who work to maintain the peace. We pray for strength and healing.”
A note on the parish’s Facebook page this weekend encouraged the faithful to attend Mass with confidence “that Our Lord will continue to protect and care for us, as he did last Sunday, when no one was injured.”
But it also affirmed the need for precautions. A Go Fund Me account has been established to raise funds to purchase security cameras for the church.
For now, Msgr. Anderson is grateful. “I’m reflecting on it every day … and every time somebody brings it up, I’m just saying, ‘Thanks be to God.’ He was watching out for us — he really was.”
Kathleen Naab writes from Houston, where she
covers news of the Church
as a coordinator for Zenit News Service.