AURORA, Colo. (CNS) — The confusion and carnage that unfolded in the dark Aurora theater July 20 was surreal for Emily Stetson.
The loud pops she heard and irritating smoke she inhaled eventually forced her and the midnight moviegoers out of the packed theaters inside Century Aurora 16. In the lobby, she witnessed a police officer cradle a child with blood-stained clothes and hurry outside.
She watched the massacre and wondered about the presence of Christ, she said.
“It's hard to see God in something so sad,” said 21-year-old Stetson, a parishioner at Queen of Peace Church in Aurora. “But how else can you hope to move on if this is all that life is? There's got to be something better.”
It was at an evening Mass the day of the shooting that Stetson found supportive friends and sympathetic words. She joined a large gathering of faithful who sought healing and answers to the questions in their hearts.
Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila was the main celebrant of the Mass — joined by 25 deacons and concelebrating priests — at Queen of Peace for victims and families impacted by the massacre, which claimed lives and wounded dozens.
In his homily, Archbishop Aquila asked the faithful to bring their sorrow to the Lord and open their hearts so that he may give comfort.
“As we present it to our Lord, though it may not be removed immediately, we know that the Lord is with us in the midst of the suffering,” he said. “Certainly, the love of the father is stronger than the bullets that killed 12 people and wounded (dozens more). And the risen Christ points to that truth.”
Death and evil, he added, will not have the last word.
“We recognize in the resurrection of Jesus Christ that he encountered victory over death,” Archbishop Aquila said. “The Father does not leave his Son dead or his beloved children dead, but rather he calls them home to live with him and he gives to us the promise of eternal life and resurrection.”
With many prayers, the Denver Archdiocese responded to the early morning rampage July 20 that ranks among the worst mass shootings in U.S. history.
A gunman killed 12 people and wounded 58 at a midnight showing of the latest Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises.” Police arrested 24-year-old James Holmes as the suspected shooter.
He was in court July 23 for an advisement hearing. A judge ordered he be held without bond at the Arapahoe County Justice Center to await his arraignment.
One of the wounded is a friend of Jo Ann Younger, 15, of Queen of Peace. She and her mother, Juliet, spent hours visiting her 14-year-old friend before the Mass. She said he remains in critical condition at University of Colorado Hospital after suffering wounds to the chest.
“We got to see him, but he could not respond,” Younger told the Denver Catholic Register after the Mass.
They said they went to the Mass to find peace and understanding.
Once the community learned of the shooting, priests at Aurora parishes responded to requests for help. Father Terry Kissell of St. Michael the Archangel Parish talked to concerned and upset youths who learned some friends were at the Aurora movie theater. Father Mauricio Bermudez of Queen of Peace talked to a distraught 6-year-old child who learned her cousin had died in the theater.
The Denver Archdiocese is offering support for all survivors and family members of victims with counseling and spiritual direction from counselors and priests.
In an invocation at a July 22 prayer service at the Aurora Municipal Center that drew thousands, Auxiliary Bishop James D. Conley the “senseless and evil act of violence” at the theater has left many wondering how and why such a tragedy could have happened.
“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?
“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,” he added.
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.”
Solo Miller, of Aurora, said she came to the vigil to show support to her community even though she's still in denial that the shooting occurred.
“It's odd that it's so close to home,” she said.
Others felt the tragedy more severely, like 24-year-old Crystal Miller, whose brother was at the theater the night of the shooting. Her brother, who worked at the theater, and his friends, escaped Century Aurora 16 unharmed.
“I won't let my brother out of my sight,” she said, while holding a lighted candle with Jesus' image on it. “These kids will never be the same.”
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— By Nissa LaPoint writes for the Denver Catholic Register.