.- Those who offered their lives to save their loved ones in the recent Colorado theater shooting exemplified the Christian virtues of courageous sacrifice and selfless love, said Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver.
Such acts of courage testify to “the natural goodness that is present within the human person,” he told CNA on the evening of July 24.
Stories of heroism are beginning to emerge from the Century 16 Theater in Aurora, Colo. where one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history took place early on July 20.
Twelve people were killed and 58 more injured when a gunman entered the theater during the midnight premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises” and opened fire on the crowd.
Reports have emerged that four of the victims were young men who died while shielding their girlfriends from bullets.
Jon Blunk, Matt McQuinn, Alex Teves and John Larimer all gave their lives to protect their girlfriends – Jansen Young, Samantha Yowler, Amanda Lindgren and Julia Vojtsek, respectively – from the gunfire in the theater.
Several of these women spoke to the media after the shooting, crying as they told how their boyfriends – who were all in their 20s – used their bodies to block them from harm, knowing that they were risking their lives.
In another story of heroism, 21-year-old Stephanie Davies reportedly rescued her friend Allie Young by pulling her into an aisle and applying pressure to the bullet wound on her neck, refusing to run or hide despite her friend’s urging.
Archbishop Aquila said that these accounts remind him of the Gospel passage from John that says, “No greater love has one than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
He explained that for people of faith, those who truly seek the common good and those of great character, the response in a crisis situation is “to always protect the other.”
“We see within that a living out of the Gospel values, and also the dignity of the human person,” he said. “There’s a natural instinct to protect life.”
Archbishop Aquila also commented on the spiritual courage displayed by victim Pierce O’Farrill, who survived after being shot three times in the theater.
Shortly after emerging from surgery, O’Farrill was interviewed by radio host Todd Schnitt. Asked what he would say to James Holmes, the alleged shooter, he responded, “I’m truly blessed to have forgiveness in my heart, and I do forgive him completely for what he’s done.”
“I honestly would like to see him. I would like to talk to him. I’m a man of deeply devoted faith,” O’Farrill explained. “Jesus is my world, and Jesus is how I get through every single day, and that’s how I got through this ordeal.”
O’Farrill said that he has been praying for Holmes, and if he had the chance to speak with him, “the first words that I would say are, ‘I forgive you, James.’”
The 28-year-old, who works as the vehicle donation coordinator for the Denver Rescue Mission, said that he “was blessed” to survive the shooting and emphasized that what happened was “not God’s fault.”
He also said that he believes Holmes should receive life in prison rather than the death penalty.
Archbishop Aquila said that O’Farrill’s willingness to forgive such a “heinous evil” shows “the depth of his faith.”
“Christ himself is the one who has conquered sin. He has conquered death,” the archbishop said. “By recognizing that, one’s heart can be moved to forgive the perpetrator of this kind of violence.”
He stressed that while it might take time, forgiveness is important in ultimately healing the wounds left by sin and avoiding continued resentment and bitterness.
“Forgiveness for the Christian is absolutely essential,” he said. “We have to remember that Jesus Christ himself died a violent death and that he forgave from the cross.”
Archbishop Aquila recently visited the parents of one of the victims from the July 20 shooting. He told them to think of themselves as standing under the foot of the Cross with Mary and John, and he encouraged them to go to Mary, a finite human being like themselves who “watched her son die a violent death.”
“She knows the suffering that is present in the hearts of these parents who have lost their child in the shooting,” he said.
The archbishop encouraged continued prayer during the coming weeks and months that God may bring comfort and peace to the victims of the shooting and their families.
“The Holy Spirit is present,” he said.