'A sword has pierced heart' of city, says Orlando bishop about shooting

Andrea Navarro | Florida Catholic/CNS
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ORLANDO, Fla.-- Orlando Bishop John G. 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 June 12.

"A sword has pierced the heart of our city," he wrote in a statement.

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

The shooting rampage at a gay nightclub in Orlando left 50 people dead, including the gunman, and 53 wounded.

Police said a lone gunman identified as 29-year-old Omar Mir Seddique Mateen -- opened fire inside the Pulse club in Orlando in the early morning hours. Some news reports stated that Mateen, who died in a gun battle with SWAT team members, had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State terrorist group during the rampage.

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 E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., who is 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 wrote 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."

Pope Francis offered prayers for the families of the victims of the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, and expressed hope that people would find ways to identify and uproot "the causes of such terrible and absurd violence."

Describing the shooting as an expression of "homicidal folly and senseless hatred," a Vatican statement said, "The terrible massacre that has taken place in Orlando, with its dreadfully high number of innocent victims, has caused in Pope Francis, and in all of us, the deepest feelings of horror and condemnation, of pain and turmoil."

"Pope Francis joins the families of the victims and all of the injured in prayer and in compassion," said the statement released June 12. "Sharing in their indescribable suffering he entrusts them to the Lord so they may find comfort.

"We all hope that ways may be found, as soon as possible, to effectively identify and contrast the causes of such terrible and absurd violence which so deeply upsets the desire for peace of the American people and of the whole of humanity," the statement concluded.

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis stated, "We pray for the victims of this evil act and the repose of their souls. We pray for their loved ones, that they may be comforted in their time of grief. We must also pray and work for a more peaceful world that respects the dignity of the human 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," stated Chicago Archbishop Blase J. Cupich.

In Orlando, priests, deacons and counselors from the Diocese of Orlando and Catholic Charities of Central Florida were serving at an aid center established by city officials.

Throughout the day June 12, Church personnel were helping victims and families "on the front lines of this tragedy," Bishop 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," Bishop 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."

Bishop Noonan planned to lead an evening prayer vigil for the community -- called a "Vigil to Dry Tears" -- at St. James Cathedral in Orlando June 13.

He said the Catholic Church "recognizes the affliction brought to our city, our families and our friends" by "this massive assault on the dignity of human life. ... I hope this opportunity to join each other in prayer will bring about an outpouring of the mercy of God within the heart of our community."

Another Florida prelate, Bishop Robert N. Lynch of St. Petersburg, said the mass shooting is "a time of sorrow... of darkness" but all "walk in the light of solidarity and peace" and must go forward "with the unshakable resolve to change our nation and our world for the better."

He addressed the gun rights issue: "Our founding parents had no knowledge of assault rifles which are intended to be weapons of mass destruction. ... It is long past time to ban the sale of assault weapons. ... If one is truly pro-life, then embrace this issue also and work for the elimination of sales to those who would turn them on innocents."

Police said Mateen, a private security guard, legally purchased the two guns he used in the shooting, which is the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

Bishop Lynch also said that "sadly, it is religion, including our own, which targets, most verbally, and also breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people."

Courage International, a Catholic organization that provides support for people who experience same-sex attraction, condemned "the atrocious violence" at the gay night club, adding that "in the face of such outrageous violence and loss of life, human words and explanations fall short."

"So people of faith look to the everlasting mercy and compassion of almighty God, who 'is near to the broken-hearted, and saves the crushed in spirit,'" the group stated, quoting Psalm 34.

The Courage statement also reminded people of what the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said 30 years ago about violence toward gay people: "It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church's pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law." 

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