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From fear to faith- Local priest threatened

WALSENBURG — St. Mary’s Catholic Community has seen less of their assigned priest, who requested his name not be published, for the past five weeks because he is the subject of an alleged hate crime incident. Five weeks ago, an unknown person called the Diocese of Pueblo, Office of the Bishop, Most Reverend Stephen J. Berg and told him that if he didn’t remove that “F****** N*****” from the parish, he [the priest] would be dead. Because the call was received in Pueblo, local police were notified, who turned it over to the Walsenburg police department. Because the pastor is of African descent, this is considered a hate crime. The local priest has since been under private 24 hour armed security wherever he goes. He has been able to celebrate the Mass only on Sundays, the rest of his time is spent in an unknown location. Because of this, the faithful have been denied their ability to receive the Holy Eucharist through daily Mass. For Catholics, the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ, the center of their faith, and many of the faithful, particularly the elderly, depend on daily Communion for their strength, some even making vows to receive

daily. Federally, hate crimes fall under the jurisdiction of the FBI. Here in Colorado, the hate crime law, CRS 18-9-121, states a hate crime occurs when a perpetrator targets a victim because of his or her “perceived membership in a certain social group, usually defined by race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, class, ethnicity, nationality, age, gender, gender identity or political affiliation”. The statute goes on to say hate crimes refer to criminal acts that are seen to have been motivated by bias against one or more of the outlined categories. Incidents may involve physical assault, damage to property, bullying, harassment, verbal abuse or insults or offensive graffiti or hate mail. If convicted, a defendant may face either a class four or five felony. Through these trials, the parish priest remains unshaken. The Gospel reading of June 21 told the story of Christ in the boat during a violent storm in which He commanded the wind and the sea to ‘be calm.’ In his homily the priest defined the boat as God’s church and the violent sea as the evil one. He told the congregation, “God is in control and because of God’s control, I am not afraid.” He also referred to the recent incident in a South Carolina church where a gunman killed nine people. He concluded, “We as a people of God should remain calm as Jesus commanded the sea.” A second threatening incident occurred locally this week when a sign posted on the church door stating “No daily Mass until further notice” was defaced with the words, “because our pastor is Satan.” Many in the local Catholic community remain unaware of these incidents. Those who are aware are afraid not only for the safety of their priest but for their own safety, as well, in attending Mass, since the threats could well be carried out in a public venue. There is also concern people will be driven away from Mass knowing there has been a credible threat against the priest. Attendance has been down since rumors first surfaced. At this point, there has been no apparent progress in finding the perpetrator. Calls to local law enforcement were not returned. The diocese has declined comment as to the status of the law enforcement investigation, but the Reverend Stephan Berg, Bishop of the Diocese of Pueblo said, “The fact that this type of hate even exists, deeply saddens me.” He urged “the faithful in Walsenburg to support their priest and to pray for the troubled person who placed the hateful phone call.”

Bertha Trujillo

  Bertha Trujillo, 97, from Gardner, Colo., entered her eternal home on Feb. 12, 2024. She was born in Gardner, Colo., on Sept. 30, 1926,

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