WASHINGTON (CNS) — The U.S. Catholic bishops stand with “our brothers and sisters of the Jewish community,” the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said Saturday, Oct. 27 after a horrific shooting earlier that day in Pittsburgh at the Tree of Life Synagogue, described as a hub of Jewish life in that city.
The shooting occurred during a morning baby-naming ceremony, for which an estimated crowd of 45 to 100 people had gathered, according to news reports. There were 11 fatalities, all adults. Six others were injured, including four members of law enforcement.
In a statement released hours after the incident, Providence Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, a Pittsburgh native, said the shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh was a “horrendous act of violence and hate, to be condemned by all people of goodwill.”
“On behalf of all the Catholics in the Diocese of Providence, I extend our sympathy and prayers to our brothers and sisters in the Jewish community,” said Bishop Tobin. “Please know that at this tragic time, we stand with you with affection and fraternal solidarity. We also think of and pray for the police officers who were injured while courageously protecting others in the line of duty.”
The diocese also showed its solidarity with the Jewish community and other faith communities in mourning the tragic loss of life in a Community Wide Prayer and Action Vigil on October 29 in Providence.
Father John A. Kiley, ecumenical officer for the Diocese of Providence, referenced the words of the Second Vatican Council in 1965 in his remarks at the vigil.
“The Catholic Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved by the Gospel of spiritual love, decries all hatred, all persecutions and all displays of anti-Semitism directed against Jews at any time by anyone,” Father Kiley said.
On the national level, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, condemed the attack on the synagogue.
“We condemn all acts of violence and hate and yet again, call on our nation and public officials to confront the plague of gun violence,” said Cardinal DiNardo.
“Violence as a response to political, racial or religious differences must be confronted with all possible effort. God asks nothing less of us,” he said. “He begs us back to our common humanity as his sons and daughters.”
At the Vatican Oct. 28, Pope Francis prayed for those affected by the deadly attack, calling it an “inhumane act of violence.” “May the Lord help us extinguish the fires of hatred that develop in our society,” the pope prayed after reciting the Angelus prayer.
The gunman, later identified as a 46-year-old Pittsburgh man named Robert Bowers, allegedly shouted that “all Jews must die” as he stormed the synagogue in the Squirrel Hill section of the city. Once inside he began shooting. Police said he was armed with three handguns and an AR-15 “style” weapon. He is believed to have acted alone.
In Pittsburgh, Special Agent Robert Jones, who heads the FBI’s field office there, said Oct. 28 that Bowers was formally taken into federal custody the previous night and. He has been charged with 29 separate federal crimes, including hate crimes and weapons offenses. Jones said 22 of the counts are “punishable by death.”
“We will spare no effort or resource to make sure the defendant is held fully accountable for his unspeakable crimes,” Jones said at an early morning news conference.
Bowers was apprehended by local law enforcement after exchanging gunfire with police outside the synagogue, following his shooting spree inside.
He was hospitalized for injuries he sustained, which required surgery, according to Jones. He said Bowers remained in the hospital in fair condition and was under guard. The alleged shooter was expected to go before a federal magistrate the afternoon of Oct. 29.
Officials released the names of those who were killed: brothers Cecil and David Rosenthal, ages 59 and 54; a husband and wife, Sylvan and Bernice Simon, ages 86 and 84; Joyce Fienberg, 75; Richard Gottfried, 65; Rose Mallinger, 97; Jerry Rabinowitz, 66; Daniel Stein, 71; Melvin Wax, 88; and Irving Younger, 69.
In his statement, Cardinal DiNardo, who was ordained as a priest for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, said: “I commend to our Lord the victims, including first responders, and the consolation of their families. May Almighty God be with them and bring them comfort at this tragic time.”
Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik denounced the shooting and said the entire Pittsburgh community is devastated. The relationship between the Catholic diocese and the synagogue, he said, has been “close over many years.”
In a statement to the media, he said: “May God free us from fear and hatred, and sow peace in our lives, our communities and in the world. ... My heart and prayers are especially lifted up for our Jewish sisters and brothers and the law enforcement officers who rushed into harm’s way.”
Prayer, loving one’s neighbor and working to end bigotry must be the response to the hatred shown by the shooting, he said.
“Anti-Jewish bigotry, and all religious and ethnic bigotry, is a terrible sin,” he said. “As we pray for peace in our communities and comfort for the grieving, we must put prayer into action by loving our neighbors and working to make ‘Never again!’ a reality.”
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