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On the Scene to Serve at Virginia Tech

"32 are gone, because one was lost."

That statement, anonymously written on a placard on the Virginia Tech campus, has echoed through my mind since I saw it on Tuesday. I'm part of a team of Orthodox Christian 'first responders' who arrived in Blacksburg, Virginia, to help the community cope with this tragedy.

Accompanying me through the gracious assistance of International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) are:

• Fr. Angelo Pappas of Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Portsmouth, New Hampshire,
• Fr. Peter Preble of Saint Michael Orthodox Church, the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese in the Americas in Southbridge, MA, and
• Dn. Raphael Barberg of Saint George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Niagara Falls, NY.

We've all ministered as first responders in emergencies such as the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks and Hurricane Katrina. Each of us is trained in Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) and Debriefing (CISD).

The team arrived in Blacksburg on Monday, April 23, with plans to stay through at least Friday. We were met by Virginia Tech OCF Spiritual Advisor Fr. Dean Nastos of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Roanoke, VA, and Anna Furry, OCF President at Virginia Tech., and planned our first meeting with Orthodox students on Tuesday evening.

On Tuesday morning we introduced ourselves to the various organizations on campus who were responding to the incident: the Police Department, the American Red Cross (Spiritual Care), Campus Ministry Office, the Newman Center, and others.

In the afternoon we visited the various memorials erected by the students and administration. At the central memorial on the Drill Field in front of Burruss Hall, the main administration building, students erected memorials for all of the victims - and the shooter, Seung-Hui Cho. I was especially touched by their compassion for Cho, who had brought so much grief to the campus. Students, parents and faculty spontaneously approached us throughout the afternoon to talk.

After dinner, we held our OCF meeting. Bishop THOMAS of Oakland, PA (Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese), led the students in Trisagion prayers at the central memorial. His Grace then read the Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom to the group. After the Trisagion service, Fr. Angelo walked everyone through a formal Critical Incident Stress Debriefing.

Wednesday morning and afternoon we stationed ourselves in the Newman Center for the purpose of meeting with individual students. I'll keep you posted as we continue to minister...

Pray for God's mercy here at Virginia Tech,

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