More than a month following the devastating tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. — where 26 people were killed at the hands of a lone gunman — the issue of gun violence has remained at center stage in America, leading to increasingly divisive political opinions among people of all ages, races, faiths about what constitutes appropriate access to firearms for private citizens.But for Maria Rodriguez, the recent shooting and ensuing controversy have been heart-wrenching reminders of a highly-personal and earth-shattering loss: the untimely death of her beloved son Pedro Xochipa, who was fatally shot in the head during an argument and confrontation that took place at a Fourth of July party in 2009. He was just 21 years old.“It was all over nothing, just a pointless argument … and I never saw my son alive again,” Rodriguez, a parishioner at Dolores Mission Church in Boyle Heights, said through tears. “Luckily we did get some justice,” she added. The man who killed her son was eventually arrested, prosecuted and sentenced to life in prison. “I told [the shooter], ‘You will pay for your mistake by losing your freedom forever.’ But he destroyed our lives with a gun.”Dolores Mission was of one of three Los Angeles-area churches, and one of 150 of different denominations across the country, that explored the issue of gun violence at church services during Martin Luther King Day weekend as part of the Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath. The national campaign was organized by PICO National Network’s Lifelines to Healing Campaign, a faith-based effort to reduce gun violence.“We estimate that more than 100,000 worshipers of various faiths in churches across the nation participated in the Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath,” Zachary Hoover, executive director of LA Voice-PICO, told The Tidings. “No one group can do this alone.”Locally, Dolores Mission, Hollywood Adventist Church and City of Refuge in Gardena observed the campaign in various ways. Congregants shared photos and personal testimonies about loved ones who have been killed by gun violence; faith leaders addressed the topic from the pulpit in their homilies and sermons; and participants had the opportunity to sign petitions calling for a ban on assault weapons and other measures to help curb gun crimes.At the morning and noon liturgies at Dolores Mission on Jan. 20, the focus was “remembering, prayer and action,” said Jesuit Father Scott Santarosa, pastor of Dolores Mission. During all three Masses, the parish projected the names of lost loved ones onto a screen behind the altar; surviving relatives presented first-hand accounts; and family members shared photos of the deceased and surrounded the altar for the Eucharistic Prayer.According to Father Santarosa, last summer there were four homicides over 62 days within one square mile of Dolores Mission. Since 1980, the parish has lost an estimated 200 community members to gun violence. The recent Gun Violence Prevention liturgies offered an opportunity “to remember the deceased, pray for them and for peace in our city and streets, and to act by inviting people to sign a letter to President Obama.”Parishioners lined up in the plaza following Mass to sign the letter, which calls for the passage of legislation that would ban assault weapons and require mandatory background checks to purchase firearms — measures similar to those included in an initiative intended to reduce gun violence introduced by President Obama on Jan. 16. The initiative includes both legislative proposals, that would need to be acted upon by Congress, as well as 23 executive actions that the president can implement without requiring congressional approval. Among the proposed congressional actions is reinstating and strengthening the ban on assault weapons that was in place from 1994 to 2004, and limiting ammunition magazines to 10 rounds. The executive actions include improving incentives for states to share information with the background check system, and starting a national dialogue on mental health issues.Dolores Mission parishioner Juliana Raygoza, who lost her younger sister Stephanie when she was killed by a stray bullet from a drive-by shooting 12 years ago, hopes that strong new laws together with continued community involvement will help reduce gun violence.“My sister was only 10 years old; she didn’t even realize what was happening,” said a tearful Raygoza during her testimony. “We don’t want any other family to go through what we’ve been through. We have to stop the violence. We don’t want any more guns on our streets.”{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0125/guns/{/gallery}