On Saturday, October 27, a shooter killed 11 people worshipping at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA. The attack came as congregants were participating in Shabbat morning prayer
services and a bris (or circumcision) ceremony. The shooter, 46-year-old Robert Bowers, was injured in the confrontation with police and taken into custody. He made his first court appearance the
following Monday, and is being charged with 44 federal counts, most of them relating to malicious targeting of a religious group.
In response to the deadly attack on a Jewish community, Catholic clergy in the United States have extended their condolences and support.
“To our brothers and sisters of the Jewish community, we stand with you,” wrote Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “Violence as a response to political, racial, or religious differences must be confronted with all possible effort. God asks nothing less of us. He begs us back to our common humanity as His sons and daughters.”
Bishop Joseph Bambera, Bishop chair of the Committee for Ecumenism and Interreligious Affairs for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote, “Those killed and injured represent the best of who we are: people of faith gathered to pray and celebrate the birth of a child and officers responding to the ensuring violence with no concern for their own safety.”
The Synagogue shooting is reported to be the most deadly act of violence against the Jewish community in U.S. history, after a year when the Anti-Defamation League reports that anti-Semitic incidents rose 60%.
Catholics have long identified themselves as the spiritual sons and daughters (or brothers and sisters) of the Jewish people, and many clergy have expressed gratitude to them as ancestors in faith.
Bishop Robert Barron of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles wrote, “Let us remember that the Blood of our Lord Jesus is Israelite blood, and it was through his Israelite blood that he brought together in one family Jew and Gentile to serve God as one, holy people. The shedding of innocent, Israelite blood is a affront to not only our shared humanity, but to what we Christians believe God has accomplished through the Blood of Christ.”
Survivors of Saturday’s violence ranged in age from 54 to 97. One woman, who escaped the shooting alive, also lived through the Holocaust.
Pope St. John Paul II, who grew up in Poland in the 1920s and 30s, often expressed deep concern for the healing of the Jewish community after the Holocaust. A prayer he wrote for the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem echoes many of the statements made by U.S. Bishops in recent days.
“God of our fathers,” he wrote. “You chose Abraham and his descendants to bring Your name to the nations. We are saddened by the behavior of those who, in the course of history, have caused these children of Yours to suffer, and asking your forgiveness, we commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the covenant.”
The investigation into the Pittsburgh shooting is ongoing.