Holy See, U.S. religious leaders urge prayers and peace following Orlando rampage

Expressions of horror and sorrow were issued by church leaders around the country and the world in the aftermath of the worst mass shooting incident in U.S. history. Pope Francis was described as shaken and saddened by the “homicidal folly and senseless hatred” that left at least 50 people dead in an attack on a nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in the early Sunday morning hours on June 12. Another 53 were wounded after a lone gunman armed with a military-grade assault rifle and a Glock handgun legally purchased just two weeks ago rampaged through the Pulse, a nightclub whose clientele is drawn from among Orlando's LGBT community. He kept police at bay for hours before he was finally gunned down himself. A surgeon at Orlando Regional Medical Center told media the death toll was likely to climb.

A Holy See statement urged that the causes for such “absurd violence” in the United States be addressed in the aftermath of yet another mass shooting incident. In deploring the attack Archbishop Blase J. Cupich, said in a statement: "The people of the Archdiocese of Chicago stand with the victims and their loved ones, and reaffirm our commitment, with Pope Francis, to address the causes of such tragedy, including easy access to deadly weapons. We can no longer stand by and do nothing."

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He said, "Our prayers and hearts are with the victims of the mass shooting in Orlando, their families and our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.... In response to hatred, we are called to sow love. In response to violence, peace. And, in response to intolerance, tolerance."

Police identified the gunman as 29-year-old Omar Mateen. Mateen called 911 around the time of the attack to pledge allegiance to ISIS and mentioned the Boston bombers, according to a federal official. The gunman had previously been interviewed twice by the FBI for possible ties to or sympathizing with Islamic extremist groups. Nothing further resulted from those interviews.

Orlando authorities said they consider the rampage an act of domestic terror, according to media reports. Investigators "have suggestions the individual has leanings towards [Islamic terrorism], but right now we can't say definitely," said Ron Hopper, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI's Orlando bureau. Authorities are also looking into the possibility the attack was a hate crime, according to a CNN report, which notes that family members have indicated that the gunman had expressed anti-gay feelings.

Hours after the attack Orlando Bishop John Noonan used Twitter to say, “We pray for victims of the mass shooting in Orlando this morning, their families & our first responders. May the Lord's Mercy be upon us.”

Bridgeport, Ct., Bishop Frank J. Caggiano also took to Twitter to comment: “I am deeply saddened to hear of the horrific attack in #Orlando. Acts of hatred and terror such as this have no place in our society.

“We pray for an end to these senseless and violent acts. We pray for peace in our communities, in our country, and in our world.

The morning after the assault, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a statement through a Twitter post: “Waking up to the unspeakable violence in Orlando reminds us of how precious human life is,” he said. “Our prayers are with the victims, their families and all those affected by this terrible act. 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.

A statement was quickly released today by the Holy See Press Office Director, Father Federico Lombardi, S.J.: “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 before this new manifestation of homicidal folly and senseless hatred. Pope Francis joins the families of the victims and all of the injured in prayer and in compassion. 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 Majlis Ashura (Islamic Leadership Council) of New York issued a statement condemning the violence, first pointing out that in the nightclub rampage and the murder just hours before in Orlando of singer and “Voice” finalist Christina Grimmie “both men used items that are considered illegal in many states but not Florida.” 

"We stand in solidarity with the families and relatives of the victims and condemn all types of violent acts such as this despicable and senseless attack,” said Cheikh Ahmed Mbareck, the Executive Director of the Council. “We also call for meaningful and effective gun control to help curb the increasingly violent trend in our society.”

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs expressed its outrage at the horrific shootings. According to President Obama, this act marks the deadliest shooting in the history of the country. "This is an act of terrorism and a mass hate crime," said David Bernstein, JCPA's President and CEO. "We offer our heartfelt condolences to all of the families who were affected and wish a full recovery to all those injured.

"We know that the authorities will do everything in their power to establish the motives behind these crimes and spare no effort in bringing to justice all the responsible parties," he added. "We urge the citizens of the United States to stand together neighbor to neighbor against hate crimes, terrorism and intolerance."

Washington’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl in a blog post urged “may the God of all mercy and compassion…touch the family and friends of those who have died and have been injured, together with the first responders and health care providers, and that they be given comfort and peace in this dark time. We ask as well that the Lord grant all of us the peace and stability that will enable us to live with each other without fear and anxiety, and with dignity and joy.

He added, “As people of Christian faith, we know that evil and suffering, violence and death will not have the last word. The love of Jesus Christ will prevail. Thus, our hope and trust is in the Lord. Though it appears all too often that our civilization is walking through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil. The Lord is in our midst and he walks with us (Psalm 23:4).

“Today let us stand together and with all people of good will in making another impassioned appeal for peace and security in our communities and throughout the world. Let us also glorify God by responding to evil with love.”

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