WASHINGTON — Cardinal Donald Wuerl of the Archdiocese of Washington went to the historic St. Matthew’s Cathedral Sept. 17 to celebrate a "Mass for consolation and healing" in the wake of the Sept. 16 shooting at the headquarters of the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) inside the Washington Navy Yard.
The morning shooting spree left 13 people, including the alleged assailant, dead, and 14 others were injured.
According to Catholic News Agency, Washington Police Chief Cathy Lanier confirmed that at least 13 people were killed in the shooting, including one shooting suspect, identified by the FBI as 34-year-old Aaron Alexis, a military contractor from Texas.
Authorities are asking the public for help in finding more information on Alexis and the shooting.
Speaking to an unusually large and somber congregation, the cardinal remarked on the suddenness with which death had come to those at the Navy Yard and appealed for "a greater healing, a healing that touches what is wounded and broken in our world."
"We pray first for all of those who died in the tragedy yesterday at the Navy Yard in southeast Washington," the cardinal said. "We commend to the hands of our merciful and loving God, who alone can judge human hearts, the souls of all who died yesterday."
"Death came suddenly and in an unexpected manner to those at work at the Navy Yard," he continued. "It is a reminder to all of us that we know not the day nor the hour of death’s visitation. Jesus calls us always to walk in a way that we can go to meet him when that moment comes. Thus, in the long and ancient Tradition of the Church, we pray, asking God’s mercy on the souls of those who died so violently yesterday."
The strains of Amazing Grace had drifted through the cathedral a few minutes before the Mass began, and other hymns and readings expressed hope and unshakeable faith.
The clergy processed into the cathedral to the hymn How Firm a Foundation. The Gospel reading was from St. Matthew (5:3-12) about the beatitudes. The recessional hymn was Horatius Bonar’s I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say.
Taking his cue from the Gospel, Cardinal Wuerl said of the families of those killed at the Navy Yard, "We know that they now mourn, but we hope that they will also be comforted. Our consolation is based on hope. This hope is a constant awareness of the power of Christ’s resurrection and our destiny to be with him and the souls of the faithful departed in heaven."
Noting that "the violence we seek to heal today" had happened not in some faraway place, but closer to home, the cardinal said that "the heart of violence is the recognition that something is wrong, that sin still persists in our world. Our prayer for healing is offered as well for whatever it is that fostered such a culture of violence, a culture of death."
"The Church, over and over again, as Pope Francis most recently did, calls us to love one another. Only love can conquer violence," Cardinal Wuerl said. "Only love supersedes and is victorious, even over death. Somehow we need, once again, in our country, in our land, in our nation, to foster that healing that comes only when we recognize that there is a right and a wrong, that we are not free to kill."
In closing, the cardinal recalled that Blessed Pope John Paul II had spoken of a "civilization of love." He called upon the worshippers to embrace John Paul’s vision.
"We are capable," the cardinal said, "of building that civilization of love, of extending and manifesting in our world God’s Kingdom of peace, truth, justice, kindness, compassion, understanding.
"It begins with the change of human hearts. It is for that reason we pray today, not only for consolation for those who mourn, but for healing, the healing that peacemakers and those who hunger and thirst for justice bring to our world."
Cardinal Wuerl had earlier issued a statement shortly after the shooting. "While many facts are still unknown, our most powerful tool right now is prayer," he said. "The Church always calls us to prayer, particularly in moments of crisis. It is what we do best, because it is what the Lord asks us to do."
Charlotte Hays writes from Washington.