CLERGY, religious and laity jammed into St Catherine of Sienna Parish, Phoenix, for a standing-room-only funeral Mass for Fr Kenneth Walker on June 16.
The 28-year-old priest was fatally injured on June 11 in an attack at a different church, one that stands in the shadows of the state Capitol buildings.
A second priest, Fr Joseph Terra, 56, was critically injured.
Fr Walker died at the hospital, and Fr Terra was hospitalised in critical but stable condition.
He has since been released from intensive care.
Phoenix police announced hours before the funeral Mass that they had a suspect in custody for the slaying and assault.
Gary Michael Moran, 54, a transient who was released from prison in April, was arrested on June 15 at 9pm at a psychiatric treatment centre 6.4km north-west of Mater Misericordiae (Mother of Mercy) Mission, where the two priests served.
Phoenix Police chief Daniel Garcia said the attack on the two priests was a “horrific crime” and that the department felt an urgency to find the perpetrator.
Fr Walker, a priest since 2012, was parochial vicar at Mater Misericordiae. Fr Terra, a priest since 1989, was the pastor.
Both were ordained for the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter.
At the time of his arrest, Moran was in a wheelchair, but police do not believe he is wheelchair-bound. According to police, Fr Terra and Fr Walker did not know Moran.
Chief Garcia said there was no warrant out for Moran’s arrest, but that members of the community came forward via the Silent Witness program and offered information that led to the arrest.
“We believe this was a crime of opportunity,” he said.
Police said Fr Terra heard a noise outside the rectory and opened the door to investigate, only to be attacked.
Fr Walker heard the melee and came from his room.
That was when the suspect allegedly shot him.
Police said Fr Terra was beaten with an angled iron during the assault and that the gun used in the murder belonged to Fr Terra. Moran was able to overpower Fr Terra and take the weapon from him.
At the funeral Mass, Fr Eric Flood, the North American superior of the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter, spoke about Fr Walker’s love of celebrating Mass.
“If someone were to ask him if he would still want to be priest if he knew he would someday be killed, he would probably say yes,” Fr Flood said, “even to say Mass just once.”
He also offered what he said would be Fr Walker’s advice to the killer.
“His advice would probably be that he should grow in his friendship with God. Fr Walker would say that there was a thief crucified alongside Christ, and our Lord turned to him and said, ‘This day you will be with me in paradise’,” Fr Flood said.
Fr Terra, despite his severe injuries, was able to attend the Mass where he sat in a wheelchair near the altar.
His arms were bandaged and he kept his head lowered throughout the service that was celebrated in Latin.
Mass at Mater Misericordiae is celebrated in the extraordinary form, commonly known as the Tridentine rite.
Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted offered his condolences to the community over the loss of Fr Walker.
“His two years of being a priest were a blessing to all of us,” Bishop Olmsted said.
He also spoke to the many priests in the congregation.
“We feel a great fraternal love and great closeness to one another as we work together to serve Christ and his church,” Bishop Olmsted said. “We’ve lost a beloved brother.”
Despite the tragic loss, Bishop Olmsted offered words of hope. Jesus, by his resurrection, overcame death, the bishop said. Christ is not only the perfect high priest, he also is the innocent victim, just as Fr Walker was an innocent victim of a violent crime.
“He fell asleep in Christ and awaked into the loving arms of his Saviour, and with that hope we go forward honouring him and seeking ourselves to be faithful followers of Christ,” Bishop Olmsted said.