Mourners grieve at a June 13 vigil for the victims of the mass shooting at the Pulse3 gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla. A lone gunman, pledging allegiance to the Islamic State terrorist group killed 49 people early June 12 at the nightclub.

CNS PHOTO | JIM YOUNG, REUTERS

Mourners grieve at a June 13 vigil for the victims of the mass shooting at the Pulse3 gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla. A lone gunman, pledging allegiance to the Islamic State terrorist group killed 49 people early June 12 at the nightclub.

June 27, 2016
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

Bishop John Noonan of Orlando, Fla., 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," Noonan said 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 said.

"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 Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, left 50 people dead, including the gunman, and 53 wounded.

Police said a lone 29-year-old gunman opened fire inside the Pulse club in Orlando in the early morning hours. News reports said the shooter, who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State terrorist group, died in a gun battle with SWAT team members.

In Orlando and other major cities around the nation, people gathered June 13 to pay tribute to those killed and injured in the shooting rampage in Orlando.

PRAY FOR PEACE

They also gathered to pray for those attacked and for peace in the world at St. James Cathedral, less than three kms up the street from where the shootings took place at Pulse.

The interfaith prayer service was led by Noonan, who was joined on the altar by Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, 10 priests of the Orlando Diocese and other religious leaders, both Christian and Muslim.

"We come not as different religions but one in the Lord," said Noonan. People will only find peace when they recognize the dignity of all people as children of God.

When he invited the local community to attend the service, Noonan said he hoped it would provide an opportunity for all to join in prayer that would "bring about an outpouring of the mercy of God within the heart of our community."

Across the United States, 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 Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

PROTECT LIFE

"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," he said in a statement June 12.

A woman writes a message on a cross June 17 in honour of the victims who were killed in a mass shooting June 12 at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

CNS PHOTO | JIM YOUNG, REUTERS

A woman writes a message on a cross June 17 in honour of the victims who were killed in a mass shooting June 12 at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

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

"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," Noonan said.

In Chicago, Archbishop Blase Cupich sent a letter to the archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach.

DRIVEN BY HATE

In it, he said: "For you here today and throughout the whole lesbian and gay community, who are particularly touched by the heinous crimes committed in Orlando, motivated by hate, driven perhaps by mental instability and certainly empowered by a culture of violence, know this: The Archdiocese of Chicago stands with you. I stand with you."

He also urged Americans to "find the courage to face forthrightly the falsehood that weapons of combat belong anywhere in the civilian population."

As well, Bishop Lynch of St. Petersburg expressed his sorrow over the tragedy and also 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 all 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."

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