Names and photographs for many of the 49 people killed at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando have now been released, coming as we still grapple with the evil that happened Sunday morning and try to respond to these events.
Akyra Murray, an 18-year-old graduate of West Catholic Preparatory High School in Philadelphia, was among those victims killed. Murray “graduated third in her class just last week, and had just signed a letter of intent to play basketball for Mercyhurst University, Erie, Pennsylvania, reported ABC 6. She was in Orlando with family celebrating her graduation. A statement from West Catholic Preparatory said:
“Our hearts are broken, but together we will mourn Akyra’s loss and provide comfort to one another to honor the memory of such a wonderful young lady.”
A closed vigil is planned for this evening, and the school is providing grief counselors all week for affected community members.
Officials in Catholic higher education have released supportive statements and are offering Masses throughout the week for all those killed in Orlando, noting the LGBT identities of the victims. Fr. Brian Linnane, president of Loyola University Maryland, assured the GLBTQ+ members of the campus community that “we stand shoulder to shoulder with them in condemning this crime and advocating for justice. . .today we are all GLBTQ+.”
In a statement, Dr. Lisa Reiter, director of Campus Ministry at Loyola University Chicago, wrote:
“This shooting is a painful reminder of the injustice and prejudice that afflicts our lesbian sisters and gay brothers on a daily basis. . .In light of the spirit of Jesus Christ, and Church teaching, let us examine how we might more fully extend friendship t our LGBT sisters and brothers, inviting them to share their joys and sorrows with us.”
Religious communities have offered statements of prayer and of solidarity with LGBT communities, too, including the Sisters of St. Joseph of Philadelphia who shared their solidarity on Facebook.
Tragically, not all church leaders have responded well. As Bondings 2.0 reported yesterday, only four U.S. bishops referenced the anti-LGBT roots of this crime in their statements. A fifth, Bishop Gerald Barnes of San Bernardino, a city which suffered a mass shooting itself last year, released a statement which said:
“For those of us in San Bernardino this is especially painful because we also experienced the trauma of an act of public violence in our community not so long ago, at the Inland Regional Center. In that sense, we offer our prayers and our tears in solidarity with the victims of this attack, their loved ones, the Diocese of Orlando and the City, itself. Because of the circumstances of this attack, we also make clear our condemnation of discriminatory violence against those who are gay and lesbian, and we offer our prayers to that community.”
At The Wild Reed blog, Michael Bernard Kelly, who writes on gay Christian spirituality, responded to religious and civil leaders who offered prayers without referencing LGBT people:
“To every politician, and every civic or religious leader, including the Pope, who expressed sorrow and outrage at the Orlando shootings, but so very carefully avoided mentioning Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer people – YOU are part of the problem. Your words are empty and your hearts are hollow. Get back to us when you are ready to put yourself on the line to support and affirm US in the face of hatred and violence. Till then, hang your head in shame and repent of all that your past bigotry and current silence has spawned.”
Finally, television host Stephen Colbert, who is Catholic, offered powerful remarks about the Orlando shooting before his show Monday night:
“Well I don’t know what to do, but I do know that despair is a victory for hate. Hate wants us to be too weak to change anything. Now these people in Orlando were apparently targeted because of who they love. And there have been outpourings of love throughout the country and around the world. Love in response to hate. Love does not despair. Love makes us strong. Love gives us the courage to act. Love gives us hope that change is possible. Love allows us to change the script. So love your country, love your family, love the families of the victims and the people of Orlando, but let’s remember that love is a verb, and to love means to do something.”
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry