DENVER — Archbishop Samuel Aquila and Auxiliary Bishop James Conley mourned with the Denver community after a gunman opened fire in a local movie theater on July 20, killing 12 and wounding more than 50.
“We stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters cast into that darkness. They do not stand alone. As Catholic bishops, we 'weep with those who weep,'” they said.
“We are shocked and saddened by this tragedy. Our hearts and prayers go out to those impacted by this evil act.”
At a packed midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises at Century Movie Theater in the suburb of Aurora, Colo., a man identified as James Holmes, 24, entered the front of the theater and set off what appeared to be a noxious canister of gas.
Clad in a gas mask and armed with a shotgun, a rifle and two handguns, Holmes began shooting at random. Stunned moviegoers, many of whom initially thought the noise was part of the show, began to flee as Holmes ascended the aisle.
According to Aurora Police, Holmes was apprehended outside the theater at 12:30am, shortly after the attack, and taken into custody.
In their statement released Friday morning, Archbishop Aquila and Bishop Conley prayed for the conversion of the “perpetrator of this terrible crime.”
“Evil ruled his heart last night,” they wrote. “Only Jesus Christ can overcome the darkness of such evil.”
The mass shooting has been the worst in Colorado since the Columbine High School massacre, which occurred in Littleton in April of 1999. Twelve students and a teacher were killed and 26 others wounded after teenage gunmen Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold opened fire, before killing themselves.
Archbishop Aquila and Bishop Conley stressed that the Archdiocese of Denver “stands ready to assist the victims of this tragedy and our community,” and they noted that the Regina Caeli Counseling Services of Catholic Charities will “offer counseling over the next few weeks to those who need it.”
“We look for opportunities to pray with our community. And we continue to work to support families and communities in forming people of peace.”
The two bishops offered prayers especially for those who were killed, adding that they “commend their souls and their families and friends to God’s enduring love.”
“For those who were wounded, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, our hope is in their recovery and renewal,” they said.
“To them we offer our prayers, our ears to listen and our hearts to love. The road to recovery may be long, but in hope we are granted the gift of new life.”
On Friday evening Archbishop Aquila will preside over a Mass at Queen of Peace Catholic Church for the victims, families and others affected by the shooting.
Priests from the area will join the archbishop for the 5pm Mass at the Aurora church. Queen of Peace is the Catholic Church closest to the theater.
Queen of Peace's parochial vicar, Father Mauricio Bermudez, said the tragedy has had a “devastating” effect on the community and that the Mass will be an opportunity “to pray for all the victims."
“It’s terrible. Everybody is just sad, shocked. People are really frustrated, and some are worrying about what will happen with security around here,” he told Catholic News Agency on July 20.
“I’m really sorry about what happened,” the priest said. “I don’t understand why that happened and why this guy did the things he did.”
He is not yet aware if anyone he knows was injured or killed in the shooting.
“I’m very sad for all the people who died,” he said. “At least for now, I can offer my prayers and my support to all of them, especially the families that lost their members.”
Father Bermudez himself went to an early showing of the movie, but at another cinema.
“Now I’m really concerned about what the culture is becoming and the violence we are promoting, in one way or another,” he told CNA.
Archdiocese of Denver chancellor J.D. Flynn said that Archbishop Aquila and Bishop Conley will try to attend the funerals of any Catholic victims.
“They’ll do their best to be there between the two of them,” he told EWTN News July 20. “Everyone is important to them.”
Four Catholic parishes are in the vicinity of the theater. As of 11am, two Catholic parishes reported that some of their parishioners have been affected by the shooting and were counseled by a priest, the Archdiocese of Denver said.
Elected officials at both the national and local levels have voiced grief and promised prayers and support as well.
“It is beyond the power of words to fully express our sorrow this morning,” said Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. “Our prayers and condolences go first to the families of those killed, and we share the grief of everyone affected by this senseless event.”
“Coloradans have a remarkable ability to support one another in times of crisis,” the governor said. “This one of those times.”
As the deadliest mass shooting since the 2007 Virginia Tech tragedy, the event generated national concern.
President Barack Obama said that he was “shocked and saddened” to learn of the shooting.
“All of us must have the people of Aurora in our thoughts and prayers as they confront the loss of family, friends and neighbors, and we must stand together with them in the challenging hours and days to come,” the president said.
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney said that he and his wife, Ann, are “praying for the families and loved ones of the victims during this time of deep shock and immense grief.”
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet said that his staff was offering support to legal and medical officials as they responded to the tragedy.
“This was a horrible, senseless and abhorrent act,” the senator said. “My family and I are shocked and deeply saddened this morning, and our hearts are with the victims and their families.”
Numerous local officials also issued statements offering support, condolences and prayers for all those affected by the shooting.
State Rep. Rhonda Fields announced a 7pm prayer vigil at the Aurora Municipal building. She welcomed people from surrounding areas to join her in praying for the victims and helping to support “the families, friends and community members whom have been impacted.”