St. John Vianney students line hallways in prayerful solidarity for secure schools

By Dorothy K LaMantia | Correspondent

St. John Vianney High School students line the Holmdel campus hallways in prayer as they take part in the “National School Walkout” March 14. Mike Ehrmann photos

Over the public address system of St. John Vianney High School, Jeff Johnson led a prayer that set a distinct tone as students gathered in the hallway at 10 a.m. to join hands, hearts and voices in solidarity with communities scarred by violence.

“Our conventional wisdom tells us to appeal to lawmakers who will keep us safe, and so we should. But that’s only part of the solution,” said Johnson, campus minister and teacher of English and theology at the Holmdel school. “Listen to how God encourages us in Psalm 121 to enlist his help in time of need: ‘I raise my eyes to the mountains. From where shall come my help? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.’”

The mood was solemn and emotional March 14 – “National School Walkout” day – as the names and ages of those who lost their lives in the Parkland, Fla., school shooting a month ago were read aloud. Prayers were lifted up for the comfort, support and guidance for victims of violence, grieving loved ones and the distressed society at large, those who contemplate doing harm to others and legislators.

The service, one of six prayerful walkouts around the Diocese, ended with a single call to action: “Inspire us to treat others with compassion.”

Before returning to their classrooms, students were encouraged to pray in the school’s chapel, where 17 candles were lit in remembrance of each life lost last month.

“The world gets scarier and scarier,” said senior Chris Hurni of St. Gabriel Parish, Marlboro. “It is important to pray for those who do things like [the shooting]. High school can be rough; kids are judgmental and mean. Most of us can shake it off, go home and be free. If someone has a bad home life, he cannot escape, which may lead him to do something drastic. There are some kids who seem alone. Sometimes all it takes is to call them by name, to say, ‘Hello, so-and-so,’ [which to them] means, ‘They know I exist.’”

Senior Kelly Garcia agreed. “In my social justice theology class, after the shootings, we talked about how things could change. We have to treat each other the way you want to be treated.”

“Regardless of your stance on gun control, it is time to come together in school and work to end the violence in our schools and communities,” she added.

Senior Theodora Ekeocha said the day was not about politics or gun control. “It was a prayer for the families, the shooter and for peace because we shouldn’t worry about going to school [or] worrying if we will return.”

“In prayer, God will tell you how to put action into what you pray for,” Ekeocha said. “Actions can be simple things – sometimes just a smile.”

Principal Steven C. DiMezza said the students appreciated being involved in the national event.

“Our hearts go out to the victims over all these years of violence,” he said. “It is great that in a Catholic institution, we can all pray together.”

Johnson agreed, saying, “Prayer frames the discussion to place it in God’s hands.”

Assistant principal Margaret Kane discussed additional blessings resulting from the school’s approach to the event. “Our parents were elated that we’re doing this. It’s beautiful because it started many conversations with their children about the power of prayer.”

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