Colorado Catholics Gather to Pray for Shooting Victims and Comfort Survivors
Bishop Conley prayed at the community vigil, and parishes remembered fallen parishioners.
AURORA, Colo. — Bishop James Conley of Denver delivered the invocation at a nondenominational Sunday evening vigil for the victims of the Aurora theater shooting, telling attendees to ask God for hope amid the “darkness” of the crime.
“All of us in this local community were affected by what happened here on Friday; and we will never be the same,” he said July 22.
Bishop Conley, the auxiliary bishop of the Denver Archdiocese, encouraged the crowd to remember that human lives are “precious in God’s sight.”
“Let us glorify God in our love for one another. Let us glorify God by responding to all violence with peace and to all evil with love,” he said in his introductory remarks.
The vigil drew thousands of people to the Aurora Municipal Center who mourned the 12 killed in the shooting early July 20. Another 58 people were wounded in the attack and the resulting chaos.
Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan spoke at the event, as did several religious leaders, the Denver Post reported.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper read each of the names of those who died.
The crowd responded to each name by shouting, “We will remember.”
Bishop Conley prayed:
“You respond to evil, O Lord, with love. In your boundless love, you have conquered sin and death. Your victory over death is our hope, for we know that we do not live in a lasting city.”
He asked God to “help us to build a community of peace” and prayed for the conversion of the perpetrator of the shootings.
“You are our hope Lord,” he continued. “We look to your resurrection as a sure sign that death does not defeat us, that death is not the end. Instead, we pray that each of us may join in the victory of your resurrection.”
Bishop Conley encouraged vigil attendees to “trust God without doubt” and turn to him with their fears.
“Let us ask him for the hope we need to see in the midst of this darkness and a new day dawning here in our community,” he said.
He invoked Jesus’ words in the beatitudes: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
He encouraged the crowd to mourn the dead and grieve with their loved ones, asking them to find consolation in God’s “abundant love.”
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, echoing the comfort and prayer offered by Pope Benedict XVI.
“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 the victims killed during the midnight premiere of the newest Batman film.
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 on 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.”
The parish's pastor, Father Martin Lally, also told parishioners gathered at the 5pm 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,” Father 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, Father 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,” Father Lally said during the Mass. “Don’t feel like you have to deal with (your emotions) alone. We are here for you.”