This February 14, Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday, Nikolas Cruz walked into Marjory Douglass High School in Parkland, Florida and killed at least seventeen people, with many more injured. This horrific event has prompted response from those across the United States as well as a global response to the massacre of innocent lives. A day devoted to the celebration of love and the beginning of Lent turned into one of horror and mourning. The shooting was the third largest school shooting in the history of the United States.
Responses poured in for the victims from both inside and outside the Catholic community and outside. Pope Francis decried the attack on innocent human life as “devastating.” Moreover, Pope Francis assured families that they were in his prayers, and that God grant “consolation to the wounded and those who grieve.” He prayed in hope that “such senseless acts of violence may cease.”
Thomas Wenski, Archbishop of Miami, released a statement saying to “pray for the deceased and wounded, for their families and loved ones, for our first responders and our entire South Florida community.” He called for residents of the heartbroken Parkland community to rise above their “understandable outrage” and to “come together as a community to support one another.” The prayers the Archbishop offered up were for everyone affected by this “senseless tragedy.”
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston called upon the season of Lent to call for repentance and healing in the wake of suffering. Cardinal DiNardo reported, “Catholics and many other Christians have begun the journey of Lent today. I encourage us to unite our prayers and sacrifices for the healing and consolation of all those who have been affected by violence… and for a conversion of heart, that our communities and nation will be marked by peace.”
Archbishop Charles Caput of Philadelphia drew upon his experience from the mass shooting at Columbine to deal with the present: “We need to pray for the victims and their families because, as I witnessed firsthand at Columbine, their suffering is intense and long lasting. And we need to be angry: angry at our lawmakers for doing so little to prevent these catastrophes; angry at our news and entertainment media for simultaneously feeding off these tragedies and fueling them with a steady stream of sensationalism and moral incoherence; angry at ourselves for perversely tolerating these things, and then forgetting them until the next round of violence.” This anger must, according to Archbishop Caput, lead to repentance and confession, so that we may respect all human life.
President Donald Trump displayed grief as well in the wake of this tragedy. He expressed that “our entire nation, with one heavy heart, is praying for the victims and their families. To every parent, teacher, and child who is hurting so badly, we are here for you.” In a statement directly to the children affected by the shooting, he said “I want you to know that you are never alone and you never will be. You have people who care about you, who love you, and who will do anything at all to protect you. If you need help, turn to a teacher, a family member, a local police officer, or a faith leader. Answer hate with love; answer cruelty with kindness.”
People across the United States joined in vigil for the victims of the shooting. With eighteen school shootings across the USA since the beginning of 2018, many Catholics, including Archbishop Wenski, have called for restrictions on guns and, above all, a renewed respect for human life to avoid tragedies like Parkland. Father Ireneusz Ekiert, pastor at Mary Help of Christians in Parkland, called upon Catholics, in the midst of this tragedy and grieving, to “show and live love daily.” As Archbishop Wenski prayed, “may God heal the broken hearted and comfort the sorrowing as we once again face as a nation another act of senseless violence and horrifying evil.”