CATHOLIC leaders from the Holy See to Queensland have added their voices of sorrow and concern after back-to-back mass shootings in the United States last weekend, that left at least 31 dead and dozens injured.
Pope Francis said he wanted to convey his spiritual closeness to the victims, the wounded and the families affected by the attacks.
He also included those who died a weekend earlier during a shooting at a festival in Gilroy, California.
“I am spiritually close to the victims of the episodes of violence that these days have bloodied Texas, California and Ohio, in the United States, affecting defenceless people,” he said.
Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge, who is also president of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, tweeted: “I generally avoid commenting on the internal affairs of another nation but these shootings in the USA have become a blight on the entire planet and I therefore feel entitled to comment from afar.”
“‘The land of the free’ cannot possibly mean what has happened in El Paso and Dayton … something has gone terribly wrong when supposed freedom becomes this murderous slavery to the gun,” he said.
“For God’s sake, either stop the shootings or change the national anthem.”
The first weekend of August produced the eighth-deadliest gun violence attack in the US, after a gunman opened fire in the morning of August 3 at a mall in El Paso, Texas, killing 20 and injuring more than a dozen people.
A weekend of tragedy
Less than 24 hours after the El Paso shooting, authorities in Dayton, Ohio, reported at least nine dead and more than a dozen injured after a gunman opened fire on a crowd at or near a bar in the early hours of August 4.
The suspected gunman was fatally wounded and police later identified him as 24-year-old Connor Betts, of Bellbrook, Ohio.
On August 4, after the second shooting became public, the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and the chairman of the bishops’ domestic policy committee offered prayers and condolences, and urged action.
“The lives lost this weekend confront us with a terrible truth,” USCCB president Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said in a statement issued with chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida.
“We can never again believe that mass shootings are an isolated exception. They are an epidemic against life that we must, in justice, face.
“God’s mercy and wisdom compel us to move toward preventative action.
“We encourage all Catholics to increased prayer and sacrifice for healing and the end of these shootings.
“We encourage Catholics to pray and raise their voices for needed changes to our national policy and national culture as well.”
Archbishop Dennis Schnurr, who heads the Cincinnati archdiocese, which includes Dayton, said it was “with a heavy heart” Catholics turned to prayer on the Sunday. “As tragic and violent shootings continue in our country”, in El Paso and now Dayton, “I ask for everyone of faith to join in prayer for the victims and their loved ones”, Archbishop Schnurr said.
President of the University of Dayton Eric Spina said the Marianist-run school and its community offered “our prayers for the families and loved ones of the victims and the wounded, both for our friends and neighbours here in Dayton and in El Paso, Texas”.
In the shooting in El Paso, police arrested 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, of Allen, Texas.
Several news organisations said local and federal authorities were investigating whether the shooting was a possible hate crime since the suspected gunman may be linked to a manifesto that spoke of the “Hispanic invasion” of Texas.
Responding with prayers and action
Via Twitter, Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky, tweeted: “More senseless gun killings … more white nationalism … more disregard for the sanctity of human life. … We need to create the beloved community Jesus envisions now.”
On its website, El Paso diocese announced on August 4 that Masses would take place as scheduled on Sunday but cancelled “out of an abundance of caution” a festival-like celebration called a “kermess”, which is popular among Catholic Latino populations, that was scheduled to take place at Our Lady of the Light Church.
The diocese also asked for prayers, and Bishop Mark Seitz said he would be participating in an interfaith vigil for the victims.
In a statement announcing the vigil, the faith leaders said communities needed to console one another.
“Today we stand in horror and shock at the devastating loss of life and heartless attack on our border community,” they said in the statement released by the Interfaith Alliance of the Southwest and the non-profit Hope Border Institute of the El Paso Diocese.
“Tomorrow we will mourn, dry tears, offer our sacrifice of prayer and brace ourselves for the work ahead – because even now the borderlands will stick together and the borderlands will stand together”.
The institute, which deals with immigration issues, asked anyone who could do so to donate blood at a centre in the city.
It also gave local directions and offered help via Twitter for those looking for loved ones who may have been hurt in the shooting but who were afraid to contact authorities because of their immigration status.
“If you are afraid to contact the authorities regarding the shooting because of your immigration status, please contact Hope Border Institute and we will help you,” the organisation tweeted in English and Spanish on August 3.
The Sisters of Mercy of the Americas posted a prayer on their website called “Let the shooting end”. They called on lawmakers to enact gun laws “to protect all in our society”.
Immediately after the news of the El Paso shooting, they tweeted: “Our hearts break for the families of those killed and wounded in today’s mass shooting in El Paso.
“A school, a movie theatre, a church, a shopping mall: All places where we should feel safe, all places that have experienced senseless tragedy because of guns.”
Cardinal DiNardo and Bishop Dewane said the bishops’ conference had long advocated for responsible gun laws and increased resources for addressing the root causes of violence and called upon the President and Congress to set aside political interests “and find ways to better protect innocent life”.