In a Suffering City, an El Paso Priest Needed a Message of Hope

The community sprouted from the scrubby West Texas terrain, with the church sitting beside dusty lots with modest family houses, mobile homes and a graveyard of old eighteen-wheelers. It took years for the congregation to raise the money and build the church themselves.

In his office, Father Marquez has crosses, a small statue of Jesus and photos all over the walls, including images of him with Pope Benedict XVI and with Pope John Paul II, whom he met more than once.

He constantly collects thoughts for homilies, sometimes pausing in conversation to jot something down. He holes up in his office to prepare, looking up the verses and sketching out the points he would like to make. That said, he likes to keep it extemporaneous.

“You have to just rely that the Lord will give you the wisdom, the knowledge to say the right thing,” he said. “It feels good. It makes sense. It flows nicely. It feels connected. That’s how I interpret the spirit saying, ‘Yeah, way to go, you’re doing a good job.’”

In the hours after the shooting on Aug. 3, Father Marquez rushed to a school that had been turned into what the police called a family reunification center. Families hoping to find their relatives piled in. Before long, many got word that their loved ones were safe, in hospitals, nearby stores or at a friend’s house. As the hours went by, the number of families waiting dwindled. Eventually, 17 were left.

Father Marquez waited with them overnight and into the following morning. At around 10 a.m., he encouraged them to join him in prayer. They said the Lord’s Prayer, they offered one another peace, and he recited for them the 23rd Psalm: “The lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” At 10:30, law enforcement officials began taking families into another room, one by one. The priest sat beside them as they were told that their relative was among the 22 who had died.