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Phoenix Police confirmed that one priest has died and another is critically injured after a burglary at Mother of Mercy Catholic Church in Phoenix. / Chad Bricks/12News

PHOENIX - A 28-year-old priest was shot and killed and another wounded at a Catholic church Wednesday near the state Capitol, a police spokesman said.

Police were responding to a burglary call shortly after 9 p.m. at the Mother of Mercy Mission, Sgt. Steve Martos said.

The Diocese of Phoenix released a statement early Thursday identifying the slain priest as Father Kenneth Walker, who is listed as associate pastor at the Mother of Mercy Mission.

Father Joseph Terra, the pastor, was identified as the priest who survived but remained in critical but stable condition, according to the statement.

"We are stunned and deeply saddened to learn of the tragic assault perpetrated last night against Fr. Joseph Terra and Fr. Kenneth Walker, two religious order priests who belong to the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter," the statement said.

Police said early Thursday morning that Terra, 56, was "physically harmed" but not stabbed or shot.

Terra called 911, police said.

Police collected physical evidence from the church, but investigators are desperately seeking more information about the crimes, said Phoenix Police Chief Daniel V. Garcia at a Thursday news conference.

Garcia and the politicians and Catholic leaders who joined him each asked for the public's continued support of the victims and for information that could help investigators solve the crime.

"We need our community to step forward," Garcia said. "If you saw anything, please call the Phoenix Police Department."

Father David Sanfilippo, vicar general at St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church, said that he had spoken to Terra on Thursday morning, and said he was able to speak, and said Terra told him it is all in the hands of God.

Though police initially responded to a burglary call, a spokesman said Thursday morning that investigators do not know the true nature of the encounter.

At the news conference, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton voiced his disbelief that someone could commit such a crime inside a church.

"Every American should feel safe in a house of worship," said Stanton.

A car that police were seeking in connection with the attack was found about four blocks north of the church, Martos said. It was spotted by KPNX-TV reporter Chris Williams, who alerted police.

The car was unoccupied when it was found, and Martos said no suspects have been arrested.

Parishioners from Mother of Mercy Mission attended Mass on Thursday morning at St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church, where they mourned the loss of their priest. They said that the news of his death and Terra's injuries shocked the close-knit community, many of whom go Mass daily at the mission.

Kirsten Duarte, a parishioner at Mother of Mercy Mission, said she knew Walker well.

"He was very kind, very sweet and a little quirky," Duarte said. "It's a great loss for the community."

Parishioners said that they wanted to be at Terra's side for his recovery, and said that he had always been there for them in times of need.

Many said that both priests had visited their homes for dinner and other occasions, and said they both dedicated their lives to serving the community.

During the Mass, Father Alonso Saenz struggled to find words to describe the loss, and broke down in tears for his fellow priests.

Saenz said the night was very difficult, mostly spent in the hospital with the two. He said that he had given the Apostolic Blessing to Walker when he died, and continued to ask the community for prayers for Walker's soul, and for Terra's recovery.

Parishioners from St. Catherine of Siena shared in the grief, and said they wanted to show their support for the grieving church members.

"My daughter goes to St. Catherine's Catholic School, and when I heard what happened, I woke her up to come to Mass and pay our respects," said Donna Rodriguez, a parishioner at St. Catherine of Siena. "We're here to show our support for the church. This hit us really hard, it's a sad day for the Catholic Church."

David Stender was the Grand Knight in the Knights of Columbus chapter in the area, and said that he and the community will remember Walker by his acts of charity, especially for the homeless.

"He really helped out the community," Stender said. "He would open up the church to the homeless so they could come in when the weather was bad."

Stender stressed that for parishioners at Mother of Mercy Mission, life revolved around the church, and many members attended the services every day.

"We really feel like one large family, and they are the leaders of that family," Stender said.

While Stender said he and his community were devastated at the loss, he hoped he would find comfort remembering the life that Walker lived.

"If there was ever a person prepared for heaven, Father Walker was a good candidate," Stender said.

Marsha Livingston worked as the bookkeeper at Mater Misericordiae Mission and her husband knew Walker through the Knights of Columbus. On Thursday morning, she could not wrap her head around the fact that Walker had died, she said.

Livingston saw Walker a few times each week when she was at the church, and she said he was "just a wonderful young man." Livingston said Walker was very involved with the children at the church and was very loved by those who attended his church.

"He was very dedicated to Christ, his church and to his parishioners," she said.

Livingston described Walker as being warm and generous. She said the last thing he told her when she saw him Monday was "humility is everything."

"He gets to see Jesus today, and that's the only good thing about today," she said.

Walker was an ordained priest in the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter. He graduated from Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy, a Catholic seminary located in Ontario, Canada. Walker was one of the first graduates to be ordained into priesthood. He was ordained in 2012 in Nebraska, according to information from Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy.

Sanfilippo said that the loss has been very difficult for fellow clergy, and said they are grateful for the people of the parish who have reached out in support.

"It is all in the hands of God," Sanfilippo said. "Even in all of this sadness, we are promised resurrection."

Sanfilippo said he hopes the people responsible will turn themselves in.

"For those who seek God's forgiveness, the Lord is merciful," Sanfilippo said.



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: Priests slain, injured in Phoenix attack identified

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