(RNS) Three outbursts of violence in or near churches, including one during worship services, are raising safety concerns for church leaders.
Eddie Contreras, youth pastor at Walnut Park Casa De Mi Gloria Church in Garland, Texas, was speaking to a group of students Friday evening (Sept. 24) when Jose Pablo, a student struggling with family problems, walked into the service.
Contreras continued preaching despite the interruption, and then Pablo pulled out a gun and shot the youth pastor, according to NBC News. Contreras is expected to recover.
Meanwhile, 75-year-old Thomas Repchic of Youngstown, Ohio, was shot and killed Saturday as he was driving his wife, Jacqueline, 74, home from St. Dominic Roman Catholic Church, where she works in the offices, The Associated Press reported.
Repchic was killed when six to 12 gunshots were fired at the couple’s Cadillac. His wife was wounded but is expected to recover.
Repchic’s death was the second shooting death outside St. Dominic’s; last January, 80-year-old Angeline Fimognari was shot and killed after Mass in the church parking lot.
Youngstown Bishop George Murry encouraged the community to support each other during the tragedy.
“While we pray for justice for the Repchic family, it is important to remember that we also must work together to prevent crime by building safe and secure communities,” he said in a statement.
The church is located in a neighborhood of older homes, some of which are boarded up and abandoned. The Repchics’ car was found four blocks away from the church in an area close to empty, closed commercial outlets.
The community has struggled with the loss of local steel factories and has lost more than half its population to job losses. Murry urged members of the diocese to pray for safety and healing in the area.
“I ask the faithful of St. Dominic Parish, all members of the Diocese of Youngstown and indeed all people within the diocese, to pray for the Repchic family and for an end to violence in our community,” he said.
Mauricio Elizondo, senior pastor at Walnut Park, also encouraged his congregation to move past the violence. “We will not start living in fear,” he told NBC News. “We will not be held captive by the things that happen in society.”