Women hold candles during a June 13 vigil in Los Angeles for the victims of the mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla. A lone gunman, pledging allegiance to the Islamic State terrorist group, killed 49 people early June 12 at the nightclub. CNS photo/Courtesy of Lucy Nicholson, Reuters

Vigils commemorate the victims slaughtered in Orlando mass shooting

By 
  • June 14, 2016

ORLANDO, Fla.  – In Orlando and major cities around the United States and the world, people gathered June 13 to pay tribute to the 50 killed — including the gunman — and more than 50 injured in the shooting rampage in Orlando the previous day.

They also gathered to pray for those attacked and for peace in the world at St. James Cathedral, less than three kilometres up the street from where the shootings took place at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando.

Police said a lone gunman — identified as 29-year-old Omar Mir Seddique Mateen — opened fire inside the club in the early morning hours of June 12. News reports said that Mateen, who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State terrorist group, died in a gun battle with SWAT team members.

The interfaith prayer service was led by Orlando Bishop John Noonan, who was joined on the altar by Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, 10 priests of the Orlando diocese and other religious leaders from various faiths, including Islam.

“We come not as different religions but one in the Lord,” said Noonan, who noted that he was familiar with violence in his home country of Ireland and stressed that people will only find peace when they recognize the dignity of all people as children of God.

The half-hour service — with readings about love and peace and songs echoing that message — was a sombre one. Those in the congregation lit candles and exited quietly after singing “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”

When he invited the local community to attend the service, Noonan said he hoped it would provide an opportunity for all to join each other in prayer that would “bring about an outpouring of the mercy of God within the heart of our community.”

He urged people to pray “for healing from this vicious assault on human life,” for comfort for those suffering loss and “a sincere conversion of heart for all who perpetrate acts of terror in our world.”

Earlier, Noonan, in a statement released June 12, Noonan urged people of faith “to turn their hearts and souls” to God and pray for the victims, the families and first responders following the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.

“A sword has pierced the heart of our city,” the bishop said in the statement.

“The healing power of Jesus goes beyond our physical wounds but touches every level of our humanity: physical, emotional, social, spiritual,” he said. “Jesus calls us to remain fervent in our protection of life and human dignity and to pray unceasingly for peace in our world.”

In the Diocese of Beaumont, Texas, Bishop Curtis Guillory celebrated Mass at St. Anthony Cathedral Basilica for those affected by the mass shooting. 

In his homily, Guillory said it is OK to be angry about what happened, as he was, but that anger shouldn’t take over. 

“We cannot allow our anger to be the GPS that moves us. Rather, it ought to be our faith,” he said. 

He also urged the congregation not to “pass judgment as the perpetrator did on a group of people. It’s easy for us to do. It’s easy for us to blame the whole Muslim world simply because this individual was a Muslim.”

“Think about it, we did not blame all of the Germans for Hitler nor did we blame all Anglos because of what happened in Charleston,” he said, referring to the white shooter who killed nine people at a historically black church in South Carolina.

“This is where we cannot be guided by our anger,” Guillory said.

Across the nation, reaction from Church and community leaders was swift, and in cities large and small, people organized candlelit vigils for the victims and their families the night of the shooting.

“Waking up to the unspeakable violence in Orlando reminds us of how precious human life is,” said Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“Our prayers are with the victims, their families and all those affected by this terrible act,” he said in a statement June 12. “The merciful love of Christ calls us to solidarity with the suffering and to ever greater resolve in protecting the life and dignity of every person.”

“Our prayers and hearts are with the victims of the mass shooting in Orlando, their families and our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters,” said Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich.

In Orlando, priests, deacons and counsellors from the diocese and Catholic Charities of Central Florida were serving at an aid centre established by city officials.

Throughout the day June 12, Church personnel were helping victims and families “on the front lines of this tragedy,” Noonan said. “They are offering God’s love and mercy to those who are facing unimaginable sorrow. They will remain vigilant and responsive to the needs of our hurting brothers and sisters.”

The bishop also asked all parishes in the nine-county diocese in central Florida to include prayer intentions during Sunday Masses.

“Today’s prayers have been offered for victims of violence and acts of terror ... for their families and friends ... and all those affected by such acts against God’s love,” Noonan said. “We pray for the people of the city of Orlando that God’s mercy and love will be upon us as we seek healing and consolation.”

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