House Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise back to playing in the annual Congressional Baseball Game one year after being shot.
Jack Gruber, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON – It was outside the charred remains of Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas, Louisiana, where Rep. Steve Scalise huddled with the church’s pastor last Friday to talk about how to forgive.
The Louisiana Republican said Rev. Gerald Toussaint had already done what he hasn’t yet been able to do – forgive. Toussaint had forgiven the arsonist who set fire last month to his church.
Scalise, who still uses a cane and walks with a limp, is still struggling with how — and if— he can forgive the man who shot him and three others two years ago while they practiced for the annual congressional baseball game.
At a field just outside of Washington, D.C., the gunman, identified as James Hodgkinson, opened fire. Scalise was shot in the hip and almost died. He underwent numerous surgeries, including some to save his life, and spent months in rehabilitation. Hodgkinson was killed in a shootout with police.
“I still have to address forgiveness for the shooting,” Scalise, the second ranking Republican House leader, told reporters Friday. “It was good to talk to (Toussaint) and get an understanding of how he got to that point.’’
Scalise and Vice President Mike Pence visited the church together. Mt. Pleasant was one of three predominately black churches in St. Landry Parish burned down by an arsonist during a two-week period. Toussaint, along with Rev. Harry Richard of Greater Union Baptist Church and the Rev. Kyle Sylvester of St. Mary Baptist Church, met with the lawmakers and others. The churches are raising money to rebuild.
“It was a real moving gathering,” Scalise said.
Afterward, Scalise said it was helpful to talk to Toussaint about forgiveness.
Holden Matthews, a 21-year-old son of a St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s deputy, was arrested in connection with the crimes. Matthews was charged with arson and three counts of a state hate crime.
Back in his Washington office Friday, Scalise scrolled through his cell phone to show pictures of the devastation caused by the fire. Only the frame of the brick church remained. Scalise pointed to where he and others prayed.
Scalise, who is Catholic, said he never “internally formally” forgave his shooter.
Scalise – then the majority GOP whip – said it was faith that kept him going after he was shot. He has said he prayed when he laid on the baseball field unable to move. He prayed to see his family again, for the Capitol Police officers protecting them and his colleagues also on the field.
Scalise, who received a standing ovation from his colleagues when he returned to the U.S. Capitol and again when he stepped onto the baseball diamond last June, no longer rides around the building in a motorized scooter. And he’s returned to practicing for the annual baseball game held in June. One of the most popular lawmakers among the GOP, is also a close friend of Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond, the Democrats’ ace pitcher.
Still, Scalise said, forgiveness hasn’t happened.
“It’s something I’ve struggled with as a Catholic,’’ he said. “Part of my faith is forgiveness and I’m working to get there.”
That this Catholic congressman sought counsel from the Baptist preacher mattered little. He plans to talk to him again.
“We respect everybody’s faith and his faith is surely helping me in my faith,” Scalise said.
Contributing: Ashley White, Lafayette Daily Advertiser
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