Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson celebrated a Jan. 11 Mass on behalf of the victims of the Arizona shooting and to comfort a grieving community. With hundreds in attendance, he said that God wants mankind to “resist evil,” to live with integrity, and to act with “civility and respect.”
“Everyone in our community is in grief. We are in tears. We are pained and concerned about what took place. We are a community questioning, struggling, wondering how such violence could happen," Bishop Kicanas said, according to the Associated Press.
The Mass took place in Tucson at St. Odilia Catholic Church, just a few blocks from the supermarket parking lot where on Jan. 8 a gunman fatally shot six people, critically injured U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and wounded more than a dozen others.
Among the dead was 63-year-old federal district judge John Roll, a daily Mass attendee who was known for his deep Catholic faith, professionalism and integrity.
Also killed was nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green, who had just received her First Communion at St. Odilia’s and sang in the girl’s choir there.
During the Mass, Christina’s mother sat in the front pew as nine girls sang “Amazing Grace.”
“I know she’s singing with us tonight,” Bishop Kicanas said of Christina. Noting the pain of the community, he called for prayers to “rid our communities of violence.”
Kathleen Hunter, a 62-year-old retiree, told the AP she was comforted by the bishop’s words and the sense of community from the Mass. She said she was praying for her friend, Susan Hileman, the neighbor who took Christina to the Saturday event because of the girl’s interest in politics.
Hileman’s husband reported that his wife was holding hands with Christina when the gunshots began. The woman was shot three times but is expected to survive.
"I was praying for healing, for Christina's family, for all the families who have lost loved ones, for the people who've been shot and injured,” Hunter explained.
Jared Loughner, 22, allegedly opened fire in a Safeway parking lot where Rep. Giffords was giving a community address. Loughner, a socially isolated man with a history of mental instability and anti-government sentiments, was reported to have a personal grudge against the congresswoman and was intent on killing her.
The killings prompted some to call for gun control and to make accusations that inflammatory speech incited Loughner to violence.
Some of Giffords’ political opponents were also at the Mass. Yvonne Ignacio, 53, a self-described tea party member, said she felt compelled to come to the Mass. She expressed dismay that the reaction had become political and said it was disrespectful to the victims.
Her husband, 53-year-old Chuck Bolotin, agreed.
"I did everything I could to defeat (Giffords) and yet it doesn't make a difference. It doesn't mean she deserves to be shot," he told the AP.
The monks of the New Mellaray Abbey near Dubuque, Iowa have donated a hand-crafted casket for Christina through their business Trappist Caskets. The red oak casket was engraved with her name, date of birth and date of death.
Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, offered his condolences shortly after the attack.
“When the target of a violent act is a public official, it shakes the confidence of the nation in its ability to protect its leaders and those who want to participate in the democratic process,” he said.
“As bishops we call once more for respect for the life and dignity of every person as we work together for the common good, seeking to address the various social and political issues that face us as a nation.”
President Barack Obama headed to Arizona on Jan. 12 to attend an interfaith memorial service for the dead. The House of Representatives was also scheduled to vote to condemn the shootings.