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EDITORIAL: Little white crosses

The darkness of mass shootings eats away at the American spirit regardless of the politicized accusations that inevitably follow such tragedies. Let us celebrate one man who seeks to rise above it all through the power of symbolism and compassion.

For two decades, a retired carpenter from Illinois named Greg Zanis has responded to these killings with love in the form of a ministry — named Crosses for Losses. He has made thousands of white crosses and hand delivered them to locations where people were victims of gun violence.

Mr. Zanis retired from his ministry in November, but he has left an indelible mark in his efforts to “bring comfort and mercy to people who have suffered a loss.”

Mr. Zanis, 69, told CNN last month that he began making crosses when he found his father-in-law murdered in 1996. In the years since, he delivered handmade crosses after the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado; Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut; and Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. In 2016, he made more than 700 crosses to honor each person who had been killed in Chicago that year. He placed crosses after the Oct. 1 shooting in Las Vegas, the Orlando nightclub shooting and the shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, which claimed 22 lives last August.

“After Orlando, (the mass shootings) never stopped,” Mr. Zanis told The Associated Press. “The country had me on the road for a while every week. I have driven 850,000 miles to put up crosses. I slept in my truck and never had the money to cover what I was doing.”

While Mr. Zanis received occasional donations, he covered most of the costs out of his own pocket. In addition to becoming a financial strain, the ministry also became and physical and emotional one.

“I had a breaking point in El Paso,” he said. “I hadn’t slept for two days, it was 106 degrees and I collapsed from the pressure when I heard there were two more victims of the mass shooting.”

After leaving crosses at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, a city just north of Los Angeles, where in November a student with a pistol shot five schoolmates — killing two — before killing himself, Mr. Zanis dropped off 100 crosses at a Lutheran Church in Las Vegas that will continue his ministry.

Mr. Zanis is a Christian who holds to a belief he knows is unpopular: That mass shootings are the result of a country that took prayer out of the schools, creating “a second generation of godless people” that doesn’t “have to have a conscience. … You think any of these people were men of any kind of faith who do the shootings? No,” he told CNN.

But Mr. Zanis never let a victim’s religious beliefs — or lack thereof — keep him from honoring their humanity and their memory. As CNN explained, he scanned their obituaries to determine whether he should bring crosses, Stars of David or crescent moons. He also memorialized Buddhists and atheists. It didn’t matter. They were people who deserved to be remembered.

Let us all be more like Greg Zanis.

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