WASHINGTON (CNS) — As Orlando, Florida, and the nation moves on from the shock of the June 12 nightclub attack, many are finding that there is no set path to find solace.
But in the midst of collective mourning over the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, the Catholic Church had something to say not only about the senseless attack on human life but also about finding peace in troubled times and showing solidarity with the suffering.
Many U.S. Catholic bishops condemned the shooting at the gay nightclub, which left 50 dead, including the shooter, and more than 50 others injured. Some were critical that the bishops as a group had not specifically noted that victims of the rampage were members of the gay and lesbian community.
Chicago Archbishop Blase J. Cupich took the lead in expressing sorrow that the gay community was singled out by the gunman. He said he and the Chicago Archdiocese stood with members of the gay community in the wake of “the heinous crimes” in Orlando “motivated by hate, driven perhaps by mental instability and certainly empowered by a culture of violence.”
Bishop Robert N. Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida, and several other bishops around the country similarly expressed sadness for the gay community’s loss and the pain they experienced because of prejudice and hatred.
That’s a start, some say, hoping those messages will begin to diffuse hateful rhetoric that can lead some people to violence.
“Church teaching does not say you should be evil toward people,” said Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University, who said the heart of the church’s message is the need to love our brothers and sisters and welcome all.
“We must look at our own conscience” on this, she added.
McGuire said that as the country processes the Orlando attack, it should be “a moment for the church to rise and to be a source not only of comfort but of some advocacy and direction” for the church and the nation.
She urged church leaders to be even stronger in denouncing gun violence particularly as a pro-life issue and also said the church should show “in every way possible, its solidarity with members of the Islamic religion” based on a possible backlash against Muslims because of the shooter’s religion.
The Catholic Church certainly has grounds to speak on such issues based on the catechism and other church documents, said Matthew Tapie, director of the Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies at St. Leo University in Florida.
He said the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that public authorities have the duty to regulate the sale of arms and Catholic social teaching emphasizes that measures are needed to control the production and sale of small arms and light weapons.
Tapie also mentioned a 1986 letter to the world’s Catholic bishops issued by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that addressed violence toward gays. The letter said 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.”
The Catholic Church also has spoken out on the issue of Islamophobia, although there is still work to be done at the local parish level on it, said Jordan Denari Duffner, a research fellow at Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative.
Duffner, a panelist at a June 20 discussion on “Faith, Hope and Courage in a Time of Fear,” sponsored by Georgetown’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, stressed that Catholics should recognize that they have a great opportunity right now during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and in the middle of the Year of Mercy announced by Pope Francis to come together even if just in conversation.
Practical tips to continue the relationship, she said, would include praying for Muslims at Sunday Mass and Catholic groups hosting “iftar” meals for Muslims. During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to sunset, and break their fast in the evening with prayer and a festive meal called “iftar.”
Sayyid M. Syeed, national director of the Islamic Society of North America’s Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances, said that Ramadan is a time for Muslims to reinforce their faith in the one God of the Abrahamic faiths.
“If we are making these sacrifices, if we are shaping our lives to please him, the ultimate one, then he is the one who comes to our rescue when there is something that hurts us” like the Orlando shooting, Syeed said. “When you talk to people of different faiths, we all have the same source of comfort: God.”
Duffner was not alone in tying the Year of Mercy to the Catholic response to the Orlando shooting. Mathew Schmalz, associate professor of religious studies at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, said that realization should be first and foremost in the minds of Catholics right now.
The challenge, he said in a June 16 interview, is to ask what it means to show mercy to the victims, those impacted by the attack and even the perpetrator. “It’s a difficult question but something our faith requires us to ask.”
Schmalz also said the often-repeated phrase “Our thoughts and prayers are with you” is a valid one if it is taken seriously.
“A lot of people are saying we don’t need prayer, we need action,” but the two aren’t mutually exclusive, he said. As he sees it, prayer can be a way of making what people do become more meaningful because then it is in light of one’s relationship with God.
This view was echoed in a June16 webinar for Our Sunday Visitor called: “When Disaster Strikes: Helping Children Cope With Tragedies, Disasters and Acts of Terror.” A participant asked how people can support those dealing with the long-term impact of the nightclub attack.
Joseph White, a child psychologist and catechetical author based in Austin, Texas, said the first thing to do is pray, then volunteer or contribute with charities responding to the tragedy.
If you live in Orlando, show support for those impacted, let them know you think and care about them, he said.
And if you don’t live there: “Look for ways to be a peacemaker where you live. Combat the culture of death with a culture of peace.”
Contributing to this story was Colleen Dulle.