The message, signed for the Pope by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, expressed the "sincere hope" that America would react to the tragedy by making a new effort to promote a moral vision which encourages "respect for the inviolable dignity of human life."
[The following story comes to CWN courtesy of the Denver Catholic Register.]
Community wide gatherings of prayer and support took place the evening of April 20 at Light of the World and St. Frances Cabrini churches in Littleton just hours after the deadliest school massacre in U.S. history at nearby Columbine High School.
More than 1,200 students, parents, teachers and community members filled each church for the evening prayer service. Priests, prayer teams, and counselors were on hand to provide assistance to the students and parents. Father Kenneth Leone, pastor of St. Frances Cabrini Church, and Father Jerry Rohr, administrator of Light of the World Church, led the prayer services at the respective churches. At each service, a letter of condolence from Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM Cap., was read.
Archbishop Chaput, who was scheduled to throw out the first pitch at the Colorado Rockies baseball game, April 22, cancelled all other activities to attend a mid-day prayer service and to visit the injured and their families in area hospitals.
Waves of emotion filled the churches during the prayer services as young people broke into tears of joy at the sight of friends and classmates they had not seen since the shooting that killed at least 15, and left 28 hospitalized in area hospitals.
The young men and women would embrace, and then quietly share whatever eyewitness or secondhand information they had. The words, "Oh my God, no!" followed by tears of sorrow were heard as students shared the names of the injured and the dead.
"I was in the choir room when the shooting began," Janelle Behan, a parishioner at Light of the World Church, told the Register. "There were 16 of us in a small office designed for about two people."
"We stayed there from about 11:45 until about 3:30 until the SWAT team came and took us out," said the Columbine High School senior. "They had us crawl out on the floor… on the way out I saw two bodies," she added as she broke into tears.
"I was outside by the stairs when they walked into the school," said Brad Jenkins, describing the shooting. "They were shooting into the school through the windows and throwing pipe bombs down by where the cars were parked.
"At first I thought it was a joke," he continued. "Then I realized it wasn't, and jumped into my truck… a bunch of teachers and students got in and I brought them down the street," he added.
"The hardest thing right now is hearing the names of the people who were killed and not knowing who else might have died," said Cory Hardison, who was in the school when the shooting began. Asked why he had come to the prayer service, Hardison, who is not Catholic said, "I came here to see my friends and to hear the names… I am kind of in-between having any faith right now."
Nancy Love, whose daughter Crystal is a junior at Columbine High School, was working at home when she heard news of the shooting. "I went upstairs and turned on the TV and it just started snowballing," said Love. "My daughte's locker is right across from the library and I couldn't remember her schedule so I didn't know what part of the school she might have been in."
"There was nothing I could do," she continued. "She did the right thing and called me-- I was hysterical-- she was in a house and was safe." As she was speaking, a young female Columbine student walked up and embraced Love. Both broke into tears of joy as Love said, "Oh, thank God you are all right." As she wiped away tears, Love said, "I've known her since she was this tall," indicating the size of a child of 4 or 5 years of age.
In his letter, Archbishop Chaput stated: "I cannot begin to understand the anguish you feel. Nor can I offer an explanation for why such a tragic event could occur. I can only say that if you seek out God's comfort, He will walk with you."
Pope John Paul II and former the Denver archbishop, Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, also sent messages of condolence in the hours following the shooting.
"His Holiness Pope John Paul II has been deeply shocked by news of the terrible tragedy which has caused many deaths and injuries at a school near Denver and he asks you to convey to the families and school community the assurance of his prayerful closeness at this difficult time," said the Pope in a message conveyed by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state.
In his message, Cardinal Stafford stated, "Upon hearing the news, I went to St. Peter's Basilica to ask for his intercession for the surviving young people of the high school, especially the wounded, and for the families of the students. Be assured of my deep communion with you in prayer and solidarity with the people of Colorado."
[The following is from Noticias Eclesiales Church News] DENVER, 21 (NE) Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver sent a message to faithful gathered for prayer services held Tuesday night in the Columbine area expressing his solidarity with the victims of the school shooting occurred yesterday in Colorado. The Archbishop invited faithful to pray for the victims and the perpetrators of the massacre that took place at Columbine High School, in Littleton, southwest of Denver, where at least 25 persons were killed after two students entered the school with guns and bombs and opened fire to students and teachers alike.
"Finding the right words is difficult at a time like this, even for archbishops. I cannot begin to understand the anguish you feel. Nor can I offer an explanation for why such a tragic event could occur. I can only say that if you seek out God's comfort, He will walk with you - even at a moment like this. His mercy is greater than we can imagine," wrote the prelate.
Archbishop Chaput, who was at the time in Wichita, recalled in his message that "the best antidote to violence is hope." "Each one of you is a sign of that hope, especially the young people among us. It's up to us to be Christ present in the world, if we are to build a society that respects all human life."
"Please know that my prayers are with each of you this evening, and with all those who lost their lives today," said the Archbishop of Denver. "I will continue to pray for those suffering in local hospitals and for all those people awaiting news on the condition of a loved one. And, though it may be difficult tonight, I ask your prayers for the perpetrators of today's crimes, that they will encounter God's mercy."
The Holy Father said he wished to remind listeners of the many "forgotten wars" in Africa, such as the conflicts in Congo, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau, the Great Lakes region, and Sudan. This "long and sad series of internal conflicts" have caused immense suffering, he said, "especially for the innocent civilians." He voiced his prayer that God would lift the burdens causes by hatred and violence, and open paths to "sincere and patient dialogue, which could produce solutions that would be beneficial to everyone."
The Pope also called to mind the hostages still being held by a rebel group in Colombia, and issued a "vehement appeal" to the kidnappers for their release.
In Kigali, Rwanda a Rwandan court on Tuesday refused to set bail for Catholic Bishop Augustin Misago of Gikongoro who was arrested last week while the government investigates possible involvement in the 1994 genocide of more than 500,000 people.
Catholics in Rwanda, neighboring African nations, and at the Vatican have condemned the arrest as misguided. The Tanzanian bishops' conference said in a statement that the arrest of Bishop Misago "carries all indications that the Government of Rwanda is trying everything possible to avoid taking its responsibility," by casting blame on the Catholic Church.
At an April 7 memorial service, President Pasteur Bizimungu threatened to take action against the bishop unless the Church admitted culpability in the genocide.
The 56-year-old bishop was arrested on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity for refusing shelter for ethnic Tutsis from Hutu death squads. He was ordered held in prison for two months until an investigation is complete. The court also refused a temporary release on health grounds.
So far, 19 Rwandan priests are among the 125,000 people in Rwanda's jails on suspicion of aiding the killings. More than 1,000 suspects have so far been tried.
The Fides news agency has released a full report on the arrest of Bishop Augustin Misago in Rwanda, saying that the arrest can be seen as "the latest step in the Rwandan government's strategy for reducing the influence of the Church in society, and halting the process of reconciliation."
Bishop Misago was arrested on April 14, shortly after being accused by government authorities of involvement in the country's 1994 ethnic massacres. Pope John Paul II has voiced his "sorrow" and "regret" over the arrest, while the bishops of Burundi and Tanzania have issued forthright condemnations of the act. The bishops is now being held without bail.
According to the Fides report, the Catholic Church has frequently been the target of criticism from media sources viewed as friendly toward the Rwandan government. One journalist, for example, has said that the Rwandan bishops are "too close to Rome," and called for "the creation of a Rwandan national church."
As the Patriarch arrived in Yugoslavia, for a visit in which he proclaimed his solidarity with the Serbian people, he received the Pope's letter from the papal nuncio in Belgrade. In that letter the Holy Father said he took comfort in knowing that the spiritual leader of the Russian Orthodox Church was meeting with Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle, and "proclaiming the Easter message of peace." He also expressed his hope that "all those you meet will receive the message you are bringing." The Pope added that the path of peace represents "the only way to re-establish peace and stability" in the troubled Balkan region.
The Pope also wrote, "It is the duty of all those who profess the Gospel of peace to proclaim with one voice" their opposition to "all forms of violence, ethnic cleansing, deportation of peoples, and exclusion of people from social life."
During his trip to Belgrade, Patriarch Alexei met with President Slobodan Milosevic and other Serbian leaders, and asked them to "allow all good and peaceful people to return home, without distinctions as to nationality or religion." At the same time, he issued stinging denunciations of the NATO military campaign, which he said was characterized by "hypocrisy" and "perfidy." The Patriarch said, "God is truth and justice, and truth and justice are on the side of our Serbian brothers."
Noticias Eclesiales' Church News reported today that the Vatican revealed that Pope John Paul II sent a special letter to Archbishop Franc Perko of Belgrade. In it the Holy Father expressed that the "Apostolic See will continue in its commitment to peace so that these people, especially those in Kosovo, who have been so sorely tried, might be spared further suffering."
"It is with deep sorrow that I am following each and every day the worsening of the tragic humanitarian situation in the various regions of Yugoslavia, especially in Kosovo," says the Pontiff at the beginning of his letter. He later manifests that in these tragic moments "I am particularly close to the pastors and faithful of the Catholic communities, as well as to all people of good will who are making efforts to aid those who are suffering most at this time."
The Pope reminded "all those responsible for national and international life" that "the way of dialogue is always possible and that such a way can always lead to honorable solutions among the various parties, in the respect of men and women from the same land, who are all children of the same Heavenly Father."
"Such is the prayer, at this tragic time, of the entire Church, who is closer than ever to you, invoking the Lord with a single voice, that He might soon let the star of peace shine on your beloved land, in the respect for the rights of every creature of God," finally said the Holy Father.
Trimble will be in Rome for a meeting of Nobel Peace Prize laureates, called by former Soviet Communist leader Mikhail Gorbachev, for a seminar on Kosovo. Northern Ireland Catholic republican leader John Hume will also join Trimble in Rome. The two men won the Peace Prize last year for the efforts that brought about the Good Friday peace accords in the troubled region.
"Insofar as the opportunity arises I will brief him on political progress here and our continuing efforts to implement all aspects of the Belfast agreement," Trimble said of his meeting with the Holy Father. He added that he expected to be criticized by radical anti-Catholic members of his party.
Trimble has been criticized for attending a Catholic service in Donegal last August for victims of the Omagh bombing, the worst atrocity in Northern Ireland's 30-year sectarian war, and for meeting Archbishop Sean Brady of Armagh in September 1997.