VATICAN CITY — On Thursday Pope Francis assured his spiritual closeness to all those affected by a deadly shooting at a Florida high school that left 17 dead, offering prayers for the victims and voicing hope that such acts of violence would end.
In a Feb. 15 letter addressed to Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, the Pope said he was “deeply saddened to learn of the tragic shooting” that took place yesterday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Signed by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the letter assured all those affected by the “devastating attack” of the Pope’s spiritual closeness, saying he prays “that Almighty God may grant eternal rest to the dead and healing and consolation to the wounded and those who grieve.”
“With the hope that such senseless acts of violence may cease, Pope Francis invokes upon all of you the divine blessings of peace and strength.”
The Pope’s telegram comes the day after a former student stormed Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle, killing at least 17 students and teachers and injuring dozens more.
According to reports, the 19-year-old shooter, Nikolas Cruz, had been expelled from the school for “disciplinary reasons.” He is said to have a history of violence and has been treated for mental illness.
Students at the school posted videos and photos of the shooting — the third-largest school shooting in American history — and its aftermath as it unfolded. The shooter was arrested by police about an hour after the attack and remains in custody.
In a statement published on the diocesan website, Archbishop Wenski said he offered his prayers as well as those of the Catholic community for everyone affected by this “senseless tragedy.”
“We pray for the deceased and wounded, for their families and loved ones, for our first responders and our entire South Florida community,” he said.
Archbishop Wenski urged Floridians to rise above their “understandable outrage” and “come together as a community to support one another” in the aftermath of the shooting. With the Lord’s help, he said, “we can remain strong and resolute to resist evil in all its manifestations.”
“May God heal the broken hearted and comfort the sorrowing as we once again face as a nation another act of senseless violence and horrifying evil.”
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia issued a Feb. 15 statement in wake of the shooting in light of his past experience as shepherd of Denver.
“Nineteen years ago, I sat with the parents of children murdered in the Columbine High School massacre and buried some of their dead. Nothing seems to change, no matter how brutal the cost. Terrible things happen; pious statements are released, and the nation goes back to its self-absorbed distractions.
“The latest massacre in south Florida requires two things from all of us. We need to pray for the victims and their families because, as I witnessed firsthand at Columbine, their suffering is intense and long lasting. And we need to be angry: angry at our lawmakers for doing so little to prevent these catastrophes; angry at our news and entertainment media for simultaneously feeding off these tragedies and fueling them with a steady stream of sensationalism and moral incoherence; angry at ourselves for perversely tolerating these things, and then forgetting them until the next round of violence.
“This is Lent. As a people, we have a lot to repent and confess. And let's not lie to ourselves that tighter gun restrictions — as vital and urgent as they now are — will solve the problem. We've lost our respect for human life on a much broader scale, and this is the utterly predictable result.”
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called for prayer and healing, as well.
"We are deeply saddened by the shootings in Broward County, Florida, and by the needless and tragic loss of life. May the mercy of God comfort the grieving families and sustain the wounded in their healing. Catholics and many other Christians have begun the journey of Lent today. I encourage us to unite our prayers and sacrifices for the healing and consolation of all those who have been affected by violence in these last weeks and for a conversion of heart, that our communities and nation will be marked by peace. I pray also for unity in seeking to build toward a society with fewer tragedies caused by senseless gun violence. Our hope is in the Lord, as he promised after his resurrection, 'behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age' (Matthew 28:20)."
Register staff added to this report.