Catholic faithful and leadership across the United States and around the world continue to respond to the tragic events which occurred Monday at Virginia Tech University.
Dioceses and parishes have offered prayers, Masses, and Holy Hours for the repose of the souls of the deceased and those who mourn them, after a gunman opened fire on campus, killing 32 students and professors before turning a gun on himself.
Prayers surged forth as faithful learned of the callous slaughter on Monday morning. In addition to the messages of spiritual support issued by Pope Benedict XVI and Richmond, Virginia Bishop Francis DiLorenzo, several Catholic leaders have issued statements and led prayer services.
Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde, who shepherds the diocese which covers northern Virginia, urged the faithful to pray for victims and families of the Virginia Tech tragedy, yesterday. “I join countless others across the Commonwealth [of Virginia] in praying for those killed, the wounded, the Virginia Tech campus community, and families and friends of the students,” Bishop Loverde said.
“I also am praying for the soul of the person responsible for this heinous act,” the bishop added.
“I commend all the victims of this unspeakable violence and their families to the Lord of Life and assure them that our diocesan family of Arlington, especially our clergy, offer their prayers and support in this time of grief and need.”
In addition to offering Mass on Tuesday for the victims and families himself, parishes in Bishop Loverde’s diocese have organized nearly 100 prayer services, Holy Hours, and Masses for those affected. Thousands of Virginia Tech students hail from the Arlington Diocese and some 325 current VT students attended Catholic schools in the Diocese.
Bishop Walker Nickless of Sioux City, Iowa also addressed the faithful of his diocese, recalling the tremendous grief he experienced while he served as a Denver priest during the tragic killings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.
The bishop, who served at a parish in neighboring Lakewood and who, as Vicar General of the Denver Archdiocese, had confirmed several Columbine students, said that upon hearing about the Virginia Tech tragedy, his mind turned immediately to “my family and friends in Colorado at the time of the Columbine shootings.”
Bishop Nickless offered his heartfelt prayers for the families of the victims and their families of the Virginia Tech massacre and recalled that the source of such “all too common” tragedies is despair.
The answer to despair, the bishop emphasized, is hope. “Christ says again and again from the Cross, from the tomb, and from the glory of the Resurrection: It does not have to be this way.”
“The insidious voice of Satan in the world tries always to convince us that we have no choices, that we are indeed trapped by our past and our limits. When we wound someone else, or when they wound us, if we do not have hope, the only balm for the wound becomes a greater wound inflicted on someone else. Vengeance is the fruit of Satan’s pride,” Nickless lamented.
“In Christ’s Passion and Resurrection, however, vengeance is defeated. Forgiveness becomes possible, and from forgiveness grows a greater healing. Hope, the possibility of healing our deepest wounds, begins and ends with the Cross of Christ.”
Urging the faithful to pray for the souls of those who have died, Bishop Nickless also insisted that change can only come about if Christians and Catholics witness to the hope and forgiveness of Christ. “Our Christian, Catholic faith is supposed to shine in the world,” the bishop said. Our lives must teach others that hope is possible, because of faith and love, in Jesus Christ.”
“The ‘culture of life and love’ is precisely the culture of hope, because only hope in the possibility of forgiveness forces us to recognize the dignity of others who share our frail human condition.”