Priests attacked in Phoenix: Parishioners remember Father Walker, Father Terra

PHOENIX - As news of the horrific crime spread, parishioners from the Mother of Mercy Mission in downtown Phoenix gathered outside the church to pray.

Bill Haley’s wife woke him up Wednesday night with news that two priests from his church were attacked in the night by a heartless assailant.

One shot dead and the other beaten and left for dead, according to police.

“There are not many words you can use to describe it. Your stomach drops out of you,” said a tearful Haley.

Haley knew both priests well. Father Joseph Terra was the lead pastor and Father Kenneth Walker his co-pastor. Both lived at the church.

Haley immediately rushed to St. Joseph Hospital where Father Terra was taken by ambulance.

“It was this weird moment where a man has been beaten to a pulp and yet when he sees me he asks how my kids are doing,” recalled Haley.

The selfless moment was typical of Father Terra who parishioners say was always thinking of others.

Phoenix police said it was Father Terra who called 911 for help. Badly beaten, but seeing the end was near for Father Walker, he reportedly gave Walker his last rites.

Parishioners described Terra as a strong man and a charismatic speaker. After praying the rosary, they began to recall his talents.

Terra is an avid woodworker and tailor. He made the vestments worn during mass and church sacraments.

“He is truly a father, just a real father,” said Haley.

“It's rough, it's hard to comprehend it's hard to believe. There's been a lot of tears,” said Joseph Bright, a church parishioner since 2005.

Father Kenneth Walker did not survive the attack. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.

“We have a new saint in heaven with Father Walker now,” said Skye Hart, a church music director who played the organ for both men.

Parishioners say Walker was young and energetic. He would often visit families in their homes.

“He had dinner with us three times,” cried Sara Lopez.

“He reaches out to everyone to come and bless their home and all the religious articles they may have in their home. He's a very devoted priest, he's very peaceful,” said Diane Harmon, also a parishioner.

According to a church blog, Walker grew up in Rural Pennsylvania and was one of 11 children. He became interested in Latin Mass after discovering a book called, "The Incredible Catholic Mass."

The book described what Catholics call a Tridentine Mass. Walker was hooked and began to learn Latin.

Parishioners say Walker joined their church first as a Deacon and was ordained into Sacred Priesthood in 2012.

Bright told ABC15 he was a favorite among the young parishioners.

Parishioner Rosaria Papandera said she loved Father Walker and said he would often tease and joke with them.

Papandera and her younger brother recalled telling the priest about using GPS on a recent trip to Maryland.

She said Walker teasingly warned them to watch out, joking that the lady on the GPS machine might someday be able to warn police if they run any red lights.

But most of all, Papandera loved Father Walker because she says he made rituals like confession a whole lot easier.

“He was a good spiritual advisor when I needed some spiritual advising. He made me feel comfortable, because he was really young and he kind of felt like my uncle," she said.

The horrific attack on their two beloved priests is putting the parish’s faith to the test. They are praying not just for their priests' soul and recovery, but also for mercy in that the attacker(s) will be brought to justice.

“We have a priest to bury, and to mourn,” said John Fongemie, who was a priest to the Walker family in Maple Hill, Mo., and knew Walker when the young priest was in training.

Walker's stepsister, Sasha Keys, said the family is scrambling for a motive for the crime, something police have not yet discovered.

“There’s no telling, there are some people out there who don’t want the priest to succeed, bring people to the church," Keys said.

 

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