Denver Mourns Victims of Shooting

Archbishop Aquila Speaks of Pastoral Care, Forgiveness in Light of Tragedy

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By Ann Schneible

DENVER, Colorado, JULY 24, 2012 ( The deadly shooting that took place in Aurora, Colorado, last Friday raises questions about the nature of good, evil, and forgiveness, says Denver’s new archbishop, Samuel Aquila.

Twelve people were killed and 58 more wounded early Friday when a man went on a shooting rampage at a the midnight showing of the latest Batman film. It is the worst such shooting in Colorado since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999 where 12 students and a teacher were killed by two armed teenagers.

Recently appointed prelate of Denver, Archbishop Aquila, spoke with ZENIT about the tragedy.

ZENIT: This terrible crime took place in a metro area that is home to another similar crime — that of the Columbine shooting. Could you speak about the impact that this has had on the community?

Archbishop Aquila: The shooting which took place on Friday was an evil act — an act of true violence. Our community is shocked and saddened by it. As a community it raises questions about good and evil, and the spiritual and moral warfare between good and evil. Even in the midst of the chaos and evil of that early morning there are stories of heroes who in the midst of the shooting attempted to protect friends and loved ones by laying on top of them. By the grace of God, the people of Aurora and of Colorado have responded with great love – with charity and with mercy towards the wounded and the families who lost loved ones. There is a clear sense of unity across our state – and this really is a grace.

ZENIT: Forgiveness is an extremely difficult virtue to have in light of such crimes, especially so soon after they have happened. What sort of guidance can you give to those who have been affected by this crime to help lead them toward forgiveness?

Archbishop Aquila: The perpetrator of this act committed a grave act of evil. He should be dealt with appropriately according to our civil procedure. On a human level one’s response is anger and perhaps even vengefulness. But I am reminded of the very personal forgiveness which John Paul II offered to Mehmet Ali Ağca. And of course, I am reminded of the personal forgiveness which Jesus Christ offers each of us from the Cross where He experienced a violent death. 

It is isn’t easy to forgive like this – but the grace of our baptisms allows us to love with divine love. Our Lord gives us a clear directive about forgiveness in Matthew 6:14: “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you.” While it may take time to forgive, the only way the wound and hurt will be healed is with forgiveness.

I pray that someone who perpetrated such an evil act will encounter Jesus Christ – and I hope others will join me in that prayer.

ZENIT: What sort of support is the diocese providing for the victims and their families and loved ones?

Archbishop Aquila: Priests and deacons of the Archdiocese of Denver have provided pastoral care in hospitals, homes, and Churches to those involved in the tragedy. I’ve been blessed to meet with families of the victims – people who are truly suffering. I pray that we may bring Jesus Christ to them.

Regina Caeli Counseling Services of Catholic Charities has made counseling available to those who need it.

We’ve offered public Masses and prayed at public prayer vigils. We will have some funerals. And most importantly, we’ll offer our prayers, our solidarity, and the presence of our community at a time when the presence of Christ is sorely needed.

ZENIT: What message would you like to convey to the victims and their families?

Archbishop Aquila: These kinds of events are painful to us because they are senseless – they undercut our beliefs about stability, justice, and security. They seem to be deaths without meaning. I understand that pain, that sadness. I have been thinking often about the meaning of our suffering – and I know that in our suffering, we become more closely configured to Jesus Christ. Our suffering is an opportunity for us to know God more. And we can also remember that Christ Himself endured a violent death and was innocent. 

Mary stood at the foot of the Cross and she experienced the loss of her child and is with every parent who has experienced the loss of a child to a violent, unexpected death. As Christians we know in faith, death and sin is conquered in Christ’s resurrection – we can entrust our dead to Christ, knowing that in him they can live eternally in Him. The Father did not allow death and sin to conquer His Son, but He destroyed death and revealed eternal life in the Resurrection of Jesus. Death is not strong enough to separate us from the God who is love.

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