PITTSBURGH - Family, friends and even strangers attended the funeral services Friday for a 2-year-old boy who was killed in an African painted dog mauling at the Pittsburgh Zoo.
The burial mass for Maddox Derkosh was held at Saint Bernard Church in Mount Lebanon. Support for his family has been pouring in from all over the country and the world.
Officials said Maddox was with his mother at the zoo on Sunday when he fell into the African painted dogs exhibit and was killed.
During the homily, Father Dave Bonnar said in 25 years of priesthood, he's never experienced a week like this. (To read Bonnar's full Homily scroll down)
"Maddox was a happy child who loved life and giggled a lot," Bonnar said."If he were asked to draw a picture of God he would probably draw a picture of a truck."
Hundreds of people attended Maddox's visitation on Thursday. Instead of flowers, his family members asked that people donate toy trucks for a children's Christmas charity.
“Jason and Liz, I want to commend you. For even in your unspeakable suffering and pain, you are consciously thinking of other little ones by asking for toy trucks,” Bonnar said.
Bishop David Zubik, who met with the family on Thursday, could not attend the funeral and instead wrote a letter Bonnar read.
“What is in my heart is that you may know God’s tight hug in this time of great sadness,” Zubik wrote. “I have no doubt — and I know that you believe it so too, that dear Maddox is working hard from heaven as your new guardian angel.”
People who knew Maddox said he was a joyful child.
"He was just a fun loving person. He was like the sweetest little boy you would ever meet," said Andrea Oehm, Maddox's preschool teacher.
Tom Kemper said he didn’t know the Derkosh family, but felt compelled to pay respects.
“I feel like this is going to be a sad cross they’re going to be carrying for a long time,” Kemper said. “It takes a long time to get over grief, especially when you lose a child.
Full Homily by Father David Bonnar, Pastor
St. Bernard Church, Mount Lebanon
To the dear parents of Maddox, Jason and Liz; to his grandparents and great grandparents; aunts and uncles; cousins; relatives; friends and all those touched by his loss here and beyond; I wish to offer in the name of our parish staff and family our very deep and heartfelt sympathies and prayers. I have been a priest for nearly twenty-five years and I have never experienced such a heart-wrenching moment. This is a tough time for so many. At the same time, I have never experienced such overwhelming prayerful support that surpasses this faith community. In fact, during these recent days, I have been touched by the messages of love and support for Maddox’s family that have been conveyed to me by phone, email and personal encounters. I have heard from members of the clergy, Catholic and non-Catholic, from parishioners, friends and total strangers. It is just as touching that so many in the Pittsburgh area community are coming together and seeking to embrace the Derkosh family by fundraising and donating toy trucks. The other day, someone came to our church and brought a big toy dump truck with an envelope of support all the way from Evans City. We have been getting so many trucks at the church that some might think we have become a satellite Toys R Us store. Jason and Liz, I want to commend you, for even in your unspeakable suffering and pain, you are consciously thinking of other little ones by asking for toy trucks. One of the first steps in healing is to think less of oneself and more of others. God knows you have a rough road ahead but with this effort the healing has already begun. What a witness you are to us. I think I speak for everyone in this church and in the community by saying that we walk with you today and we promise to be here for you tomorrow and for many years to come.
There is an old country western song made famous by the late Patsy Kline entitled “If I Could See the World Through the Eyes of a Child.” The lyrics are so poignant and profound. “If I could see the world through the eyes of a child, what a wonderful world this would be. There’d be no trouble and no strife, just a happy life with a bluebird in every tree. I could see right, not wrong. I could see good, not bad. I could see all good things in life I’ve never had. If I could see life through the eyes of a child what a wonderful world this would be.”
There really is nothing quite like the eyes of a child- so full of life and aglow with awe and wonder. One of the most distinguishing features of Maddox were his eyes. His eyes were even more pronounced by his trademark glasses. In his short life he saw so much with those eyes. Earlier this week, Jason and Liz shared with me Maddox’s fascination with looking. When he would walk or run he would hold his head in such a way that he was almost always looking back at himself. A few weeks ago, he was in the car with his mom and they were on Washington Road near our church. He looked at the church and said, “Look at the sandcastles.” He saw the church as a collection of sandcastles. Maddox knew all about sandcastles from his trips to the beach. Castles speak of power, majesty and authority. Maddox was fascinated by these castles. Today this holy castle, where Jason and Liz were married and Maddox was baptized, is a place where we all come to be comforted, consoled and filled with hope.
Maddox was a happy child who loved life and giggled often. He enjoyed celebrating life’s moments. For instance, at his Pap’s birthday party, when it came time to blow out the candles on the cake, Maddox said, “Let me do it pap!”
Everyone knows by now how much little Maddox loved trucks. He also enjoyed tractors. During trips to Lowes and Home Depot, Maddox would sit on the tractors. You know, trucks and tractors are big and they almost always carry or tow something. Maddox saw this bigness with his eyes. I would venture to say that if he were asked to draw a picture of God he probably would draw a picture of a truck. He saw strength, power and might in a truck.
Yes, there really is nothing quite like the eyes of a child. If only we all could see the world through the eyes of a child the world would be a wonderful place. And yet, isn’t that the way Jesus wants us to live our lives? He says, “Unless you become like a little child you cannot enter the Kingdom of God. “ In life and in the face of death, we are called to live like trusting children looking to God with the eyes of faith. That is the message Jesus seeks to convey to us in the gospel today when he says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Have faith in God and faith in me.” To have faith is to surrender our lives in loving trust to the Lord Jesus often without knowing answers to all of our questions but knowing that he is with us every step of the way. He never abandons us. To have faith is to overcome the disillusionment of this moment by hoping in the Lord and seeing him as our “saving help.” The first reading from Lamentations, chosen by Jason and Liz, illustrates this so well. The writer is heartbroken and deprived of peace. He feels as though he has no future. But he goes on to say, ”The favors of the Lord are not exhausted, his mercies are not spent.” In other words, there is a future to hope in. And so he says, “My portion is the Lord, says my soul; therefore will I hope in him.”
Saint Paul reiterates this call to hope in the second reading when he writes to the Thessalonians and says, “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” As Christians we are born to hope even in the darkest of moments. One of the core teachings of our faith is the belief in the resurrection; that after suffering and death comes new and eternal life. We celebrate this teaching every Sunday at Holy Mass. Sunday is to the week what Easter is to the year. And so today, amid our tears and sadness, we celebrate the precious life of Maddox Lamar Derkosh and the life he now enjoys forever in heaven with God, his angels and saints. This Mass marks for us a celebration of our belief in Maddox’s resurrection whereby we look not at his death but to his new and eternal life.
A story is told about a little boy who was kneeling at his bedside saying his prayers before sleep. He began by making the sign of the cross and then he prayed, “Dear God, ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ. In the Name of the Father....” He jumped into bed, got under the covers and closed his eyes. His mom kissed him good night and then prepared to turn the light off and leave but it dawned on her that he had never prayed like this before. So she asked, “Johnny, why did you pray like this tonight? You always pray for dad and me, your sister, your grandparents and friends and our dog. But tonight you just prayed using the ABC’s. Why?” The little boy responded by saying, “My religion teacher taught me that God always knows what‘s in my heart. I didn’t know what to say, so I thought I would just give him the letters and let him make the words.” Through the eyes of a child.
Even when we don’t know what to say, we need to pray. Today the Church helps us to find words. The prayers we pray, the songs we sing, the community that surrounds us, the gospel we hear and the Eucharist we receive are all clear signs to us that God walks with us through this valley of darkness, calling us to a child-like faith. The darkness of this moment is overwhelming and the lack of immediate and instant answers makes it all the more challenging. It will be tempting, given our human nature, to want to remain in this darkness of grief, anger and bewilderment. But we are called to live in the light with the eyes of faith. The song, “I want to Walk as a Child of the Light” chosen by the family for this Mass calls us to be people of light. We pray for the faith to bear that light in this darkness as the words say, “In him there is no darkness at all; the night and the day are both alike. The Lamb is the light of the city of God. Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.”
Maddox was a child of the Light. He was happy and joyful and could light up a room like a Christmas tree. His Great Aunt Kathy describes him as “A firecracker,” ever so colorful. That is Maddox’s legacy along with his dazzling little eyes. We need to be grateful to God for the gift of his life. Jason’s parents said to me yesterday how blessed they felt to have spent so much time with Maddox this past year. We need to do what we can to keep his legacy alive by being children of the Light. After all, that is what it really means to have faith—to bring light where there is darkness.
Yes, if only we could look at life through the eyes of a child, the world would be a better place. The death of a loved one makes us realize all the more that each one of us is a child of God. And like a child, we need to keep looking at life and what lies before us with a spirit of joy and childlike faith. We need to depend on Jesus Christ and trust in him. We also need to seek the intercession of our Blessed Mother, who knows, Jason and Liz, the unspeakable pain of losing an only child. May the suffering, death and resurrection of her Son, Jesus Christ, give you joyful hope. Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord and let the perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. And may his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.
Delivered by Fr. David J. Bonnar, Pastor of St. Bernard Parish,
November 9, 2012