KILLEEN, Texas — Even before a gunman killed three soldiers last week at Fort Hood, the homily for Sunday's noon Mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church here was going to be about death, a consequence of the year's liturgical calendar two weeks before Easter.
But when the Rev. Matthew Kinney, the associate pastor at St. Joseph, began to speak on Sunday, he could not ignore the second mass shooting in five years at the storied Army post just down the road. Every word of his homily about the death of Lazarus, from the Book of John, had urgent meaning for the parishioners who crowded into this city's only Catholic parish not located on the sprawling Fort Hood.
"Why would a good God allow death?" Kinney asked his parishioners. "Why is it that God allows for death?"
But for this grieving city, where on Sunday morning an electronic billboard near a community center read, "Fort Hood, we are with you in prayer," there were no easy answers.
At St. Joseph, the congregation prayed for the three deceased victims by name — Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Ferguson, Staff Sgt. Carlos Lazaney-Rodriguez and Sgt. Timothy Owens — and the soldier who was accused of killing them and wounding 16 other soldiers before taking his own life, Spc. Ivan Lopez.
One young man, seated in the back row, cried and wiped his eyes with a crumpled tissue. After the Mass, he waited to pray with Kinney.
Ahead of a planned memorial service at Fort Hood on Wednesday, which President Barack Obama will attend, pastors across the area and their congregations honored the fallen. The Tabernacle Baptist Church declared in advance that its 11 a.m. service would be dedicated to the Fort Hood victims. And the First United Methodist Church of Killeen lit candles in their memory.
As Killeen grappled with its renewed sense of loss, policymakers elsewhere debated whether changes in military policy could prevent another mass shooting.
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said Sunday that he supported allowing senior officers on military bases to carry weapons for protection. His comments were made on CBS's Face the Nation and Fox News Sunday.
But retired Adm. Michael Mullen, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, argued the opposite on NBC's Meet the Press: "I think that actually invites much more difficult challenges."
Just as Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan did in 2009 when he killed 13 people at Fort Hood, Lopez was able to bring a privately owned handgun onto the post undetected, military officials said.