The pastor of an Aurora parish mourning the death of one of their own in a July 20 mass shooting, reassured parishioners of the hope they can find in Christ – even in the darkest times.
“The sun rises in the east,” said Father Terry Kissell of St. Michael the Archangel Parish during Mass July 22, referencing Aurora’s location east of Denver.
“Though there is darkness and confusion and pain, we can’t forget that there will come a new day, a new dawn when there will be no more suffering, no more tears and no more sadness.”
Parishioner Alex Sullivan, 27, was one of twelve victims killed inside a nearby movie theater last Thursday during the midnight premiere of the newest Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises.”
Sullivan was confirmed as an adult last year at St. Michael's. He was also married last year and would have celebrated his one-year anniversary July 22.
Parishioner Jimmy Piralla went through the RCIA program with Sullivan last year and was visibly shaken by the news of his death.
“It really makes you appreciate your family members and your loved ones,” Piralla said.
He said his friend’s death also makes him appreciate the choice he made to become Catholic.
“It just affirms to me that Christ was calling Alex, because he was confirmed last year,” Piralla said. “It makes me even more sure that the choices I’ve made to become Catholic were the right decisions.”
At a July 22 Mass for youth at Queen of Peace Parish in Aurora, Deacon John Thunblom encouraged parishioners to forgive the gunman.
“Don’t harbor hatred in your heart,” he said. “A very terrible thing has happened. We will overcome it. We will do it with prayer…with love…with kindness.”
Pastor of the parish Father Martin Lally also told parishioners gathered at the 5 p.m. Mass that prayer will heal those struggling, especially the family of parishioner Alexander Jonathan (A.J.) Boik, 18, who was killed in the movie theater.
“We just have to believe in the power of prayer individually and collectively,” Fr. Lally said. “We don’t have to deal with this alone…we can really lean on one another and take comfort and strength from one another.”
Parishioner Charly Butterworth, 16, said she came to the youth Mass to find strength and support while trying to cope with the massacre she personally witnessed.
Butterworth said she was sitting in the fourth row of Theater 9 with her brother and her friend when the gunman “came in from behind the screen.” She said she thought it was a special effect for the midnight showing.
“Then I saw him throw something that was on fire,” she said, citing a tear gas canister the gunman threw into the crowd before shooting at random.
Although Butterworth, her brother and friend were able to escape unscathed, she says she suffers from nightmares and has found it difficult to get a handle on her experience.
“That’s why I came to church today,” she said. “I needed to go to church to see my friends and go to Mass.”
After the Mass, Fr. Lally embraced Butterworth and asked her how she was doing.
“There are no rules for responding or reacting or dealing with these kinds of situations,” Fr. Lally said during the Mass. “Don’t feel like you have to deal with (your emotions) alone. We are here for you.”