People comfort each other during an interfaith memorial for mass shooting victims led by Bishop Joseph Pepe of Las Vegas, the evening of Oct. 2. CNS photo/Mike Blake, Reuters

Do not let hate, violence 'have the last word,' says Las Vegas bishop

  • October 3, 2017

LAS VEGAS – Hate and violence can not have the last word, said Las Vegas Bishop Joseph A. Pepe at an emotional interfaith prayer service a day after the mass killing of at least 59 concert goers on Oct. 1.

Pepe was speaking at Guardian Angel Cathedral barely 24 hours after a crazed gunman, later identified by law enforcement officials as Stephen Craig Paddock, 64, rained gunfire on a crowd of about 22,000 attending an outdoor country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip.

Pepe told those filling the pews that "in the face of tragedy we need each other."

"And in the face of violence, we stand together because we cannot let hate and violence have the last word.”

"God cries with our tears,” he said.

"We come together in unity across our religious traditions, across race, across gender to stand with each other as living signs of that hope," Pepe said.

The service brought people together as they were still trying to fathom the massacre of the previous night. From a room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay casino resort hotel, Paddock fired hundreds of rounds of bullets into the crowd below, ultimately leaving at least 59 people dead and more than 500 injured.

It is the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Once police had located the shooter, SWAT team members burst into the room to find Paddock dead from self-inflicted gun wounds.

In a telegram to Pepe, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said Pope Francis was "deeply saddened to learn of the shooting in Las Vegas" and "sends the assurance of his spiritual closeness to all those affected by this senseless tragedy."

"He commends the efforts of the police and emergency service personnel, and offers the promise of his prayers for the injured and for all who have died, entrusting them to the merciful love of Almighty God," the cardinal said.

In Washington, President Donald Trump called the massacre an "act of pure evil." He mourned the victims and prayed for them and their family members, saying of those who lost loved ones, "We cannot fathom their pain, we cannot imagine their loss."

"In times such as these, I know we are searching for some kind of meaning in the chaos, some kind of light in the darkness," said the president, who was to visit Las Vegas Oct. 4. "The answers do not come easy. But we can take solace knowing that even the darkest space can be brightened by a single light, and even the most terrible despair can be illuminated by a single ray of hope."

Bishops and other Catholic leaders around the country issued statements expressing sadness at the horrific events, offering prayers for the victims and praising first responders, volunteers and bystanders for their efforts at the scene.

"Once again we must reach out in shock and horror to comfort the victims of a mass shooting in our country," said Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago.

In his remarks at the cathedral, Pepe said he was struck by the many signs of goodness “even in the face of violence.”

“I think about the first responders who risked their own lives to save the lives of others," he said. "I think of the emergency medical personnel and hospital staff members who answered the call for well-being and a future by using their skills to save lives. And, I am reminded that the many individuals, who rendered aid, gave rides and helped each other.

"They are living reminders of the good Samaritan and God who calls us all from fear to care.”

He urged people to be "a countersign" in an "increasingly polarized" world. "Where there is hatred and violence we must be the sign of love and of peace," he said.

"Where there is division and uncivil speech, we must stand together as a sign of unity. And where we stand in a world of despair, we must stand together as a sign of hope."

Among civic leaders at the cathedral service was Steve Sisolak, chairman of the Clark County Commission, who praised the police for their quick response and commended the outpouring of support from the community.

"Las Vegas will never be quite the same as a result of this," Sisolak said. But "we'll be back," he added.

Sisolak started a GoFundMe online drive to raise money for the shooting victims and by midday Oct. 3, contributions had reached more than $3 million. His original goal was $500,000.

Other examples of community support included people lining up for hours to donate blood for hospitals treating the shooting victims. By the evening of Oct. 2, the blood bank capacity had been reached. Two resort hotels offered free rooms to people arriving in town to help family members affected by the shooting; Southwest Airlines was offering some free flights.

A Catholic church right next to the concert venue, the Shrine of the Most Holy Redeemer, was used "as a staging area and an initial place of refuge," Fr. Bob Stoeckig, vicar general of the Diocese of Las Vegas, told Catholic News Service in an email Oct. 1. He added that "there were bullets near the doors" of the shrine, which is a popular place for tourists to attend Mass. There were no reports of damage to the shrine.

Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchinson said Oct. 2 the city and the state of Nevada will get through the violence and death wrought by a crazed gunman "with faith in God and the American and Nevadan spirit we have."

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