AURORA, Colo. (CNS) — Denver Auxiliary Bishop James D. Conley said July 22 the “senseless and evil act of violence” at an Aurora movie theater has left many wondering how and why such a tragedy could have happened.
In his invocation at an evening prayer service at the Aurora Municipal Center that drew thousands, he said the community will never be the same after a gunman killed 12 people and wounded 58 at a midnight showing of the latest Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises.”
The accused shooter, 24-year-old James Holmes, was in court July 23 for an advisement hearing. A judge ordered he be held without bond at the Arapahoe County Justice Center. News reports described Holmes, whose hair was dyed orange and red, as being listless throughout the proceedings. The former doctoral student at the University of Colorado sat next to his lawyer and remained silent.
“Questions arise when the everyday securities and certainties of life — the trust we carry in our fellow human beings, that we can safely go to work each day, or to school, or to the movies, are shaken,” Bishop Conley said at the prayer service. “It's natural for us to wonder why does this kind of suffering happen and what does it really mean?
“We who gather tonight have come to seek answers. Not the answers that the commentators on television might provide, but answers to the real questions that leave us feeling insecure and fearful.”
He urged the crowd, which included Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan and other city officials, to place their questions, fears and uncertainties “in the hands of our loving and merciful God.”
“Let us trust God with our doubts and let us turn to him with our fears. Let us ask him for the hope we need to see in the midst of this darkness,” Bishop Conley said.
He urged all to mourn “for those who have perished” and “grieve with their loved ones” and “acknowledge the real evil which has wounded our community,” but also reminded them that God is “the great comforter and is “truly present to us.”
“We do not grieve like those who have no hope. … We grieve with the knowledge that neither death nor life can separate us from the love of God,” Bishop Conley said. “When we do return to our lives, let us see in this tragedy a reminder that our lives are fleeting and they are precious in God's sight.
“Our lives are a gift from God — a grace — and they are given to us to glorify God. … Let us glorify God by responding to all violence with peace and to all evil with love.”
Pope Benedict XVI used the occasion of his weekly Angelus address at Castel Gandolfo July 22 to express his sadness over the Aurora shootings, saying he was “deeply shocked by the senseless violence.”
“I share the distress of the families and friends of the victims and the injured, especially the children,” he said to pilgrims gathered at the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo.
In the hours after the tragedy Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila and Bishop Conley offered prayers and support to the victims, survivors and the community.
“For those who were killed, our hope is the tender mercy of our God,” the bishops said in a joint statement July 20. “'Neither death nor life,' reflected St. Paul, 'can separate us from the love of God.'”
“For those who were wounded — physically, emotionally and spiritually — our hope is in their recovery and renewal. 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.”
Archbishop Aquila and Bishop Conley also prayed for the shooter. “We hope also for the perpetrator of this terrible crime, and we pray for his conversion. Evil ruled his heart last night,” they said. “Only Jesus Christ can overcome the darkness of such evil.”
Archbishop Aquila celebrated a Mass that evening for those affected by the shooting. Regina Caeli Counseling Services of Catholic Charities in the archdiocese planned to offer counseling over the next few weeks to those who need it.
President Barack Obama made only one campaign appearance July 20, in Fort Myers, Fla., spoke only of the shootings during his appearance, and canceled the rest of his schedule. First lady Michelle Obama also canceled two scheduled appearances in Virginia.
“There are going to be other days for politics,” the president said. “This, I think, is a day for prayer and reflection.”
On July 22, he was in Aurora to visit with families of the victims and survivors. In remarks at the University of Colorado Hospital, he said he came “not so much as president” but as “a father and as a husband.”
“I think that the reason stories like this have such an impact on us is because we can all understand what it would be to have somebody that we love taken from us in this fashion — what it would be like and how it would impact us,” Obama said.
His Republican rival for the presidency, Mitt Romney, was in New Hampshire when the shootings occurred. “We are praying for the families and loved ones of the victims during this time of deep shock and immense grief,” he said in a statement. We expect that the person responsible for this terrible crime will be quickly brought to justice.”
He later remarked that Obama's decision to meet with the families was “the right thing.”