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Volume 10, No. 2FALL 2007

A Healing Presence At Virginia Tech
IOCC’s Emergency Response Program

His Grace Bishop THOMAS (Antiochian Archdiocese) and clergy who are members of IOCC’s Emergency Response Network lead students in prayer on the main campus of Virginia Tech following the shootings that left 33 people dead. Photo courtesy of OCF

Three Orthodox clergy, part of IOCC’s Emergency Response Network, recently related their experience of delivering trauma and grief counseling at Virginia Tech following the tragic shootings last April that left 33 dead. The network was activated in cooperation with Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF) to offer counseling for students and faculty. The clergy included Deacon Raphael Barberg of St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Niagara Falls, N.Y., a career police officer who served as an IOCC responder on 9/11; Father Peter Preble of St. Michael’s Romanian Orthodox Church in Southbridge, Mass. and a chaplain for his fire department; and Father Angelo Pappas of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Portsmouth, N.H., a disaster response team leader in his state and a fire chaplain.

IOCC: How did you get yourselves organized on the day that students returned to classes?

Dn. Barberg: We arrived on campus on Monday afternoon and got a game plan together. When Bishop THOMAS came on Tuesday, we had our first meeting with the OCF students on the main area of the campus where the victims were being memorialized. We did the trisagion prayers for the departed. We did it very simply and as low key as possible. We then proceeded to a room and there we did more prayers and the Bishop vested.

IOCC: What is Critical Incident Stress Debriefing and how did it facilitate your work?

Dn. Barberg: It’s a tool to use when people have been through any kind of trauma. It is done in a group setting and gives people a chance to say how they feel and hear what others have gone through.

Fr. Preble: We listen to their story and watch their body language. The idea is to get people to tell the story as much as they can and that process will help them to recover. About 15 students participated. It was probably our biggest contribution. We passed those assessments to the two priests who are there all the time working with the students.

IOCC: How did students react to your presence on campus?

Fr. Pappas: Some students told us that they were tired of seeing police uniforms and that they were comforted to see clerical shirts. I had taken a course in grief counseling. You don’t go there to try and preach, but to listen. If you do that your presence will be more powerful.

Fr. Preble: We met with a lot of students who just wanted to talk. Over the course of the week, each of us saw between 20-30 students on a one-on-one basis. You look for those who need some follow up based on their body language and how they speak. This is something we definitely need to get more people trained to do at the seminary level.

IOCC: What would you say is the value of IOCC’s emergency response at Virginia Tech?

Dn. Barberg: There was a poster on campus which all of us claimed as a rallying cry: “32 are gone because one was lost.” We don’t know the issues that the person next to us is going through. If we don’t reach out to them, we don’t know what kind of trouble will follow us.

Fr. Pappas: The most important thing was how well we worked together. Father Peter and I had worked together in Katrina. We knew each other and we were able to get things done. Truly Jesus Christ was among us in this tragedy.

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