by Carol Zimmermann
WASHINGTON (CNS) — U.S. Catholic bishops condemned the two mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 15 that left at least 49 people dead and 20 seriously injured, and they also pledged their solidarity with the Muslim community.
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he was “deeply saddened by the senseless attacks” and joined with New Zealand’s bishops in “expressing solidarity with the Muslim community and in calling Catholics to join in prayer for the victims of this shooting, their families and the Muslim community that was directly targeted.”
“May almighty God change the hearts of those who hate to recognize the inherent dignity of all people and bring consolation to all those affected by this heart-rending loss,” he said in a March 15 statement.
The cardinal also said he agreed with the New Zealand bishops, who said they were “particularly horrified that this has happened at a place and time of prayer.”
Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik similarly expressed sadness and shock over the shooting, recalling what his own community endured five months ago when a gunman opened fire in a Pittsburgh synagogue killing 11 and wounding six others.
“Together with so many others, my heart hurts to learn of yet another mass shooting in a place of worship,” he said. “The senseless taking of innocent life is only made more disturbing when people are targeted because of their beliefs and as they gather to pray.”
The bishop said his local community “knows all too well the shock and horror of a massacre such as this. Yet, an act intended to tear people apart can instead build up a community that is ‘Stronger than Hate.'”
In his March 15 statement, he said he hopes the Muslim community in Christchurch will “know the love and support of their neighbors near and far in the face of the evil they have experienced.”
He also pledged prayers from Catholics in Pittsburgh for those killed and injured in the attacks and said he especially extends support to the Muslim community in southwestern Pennsylvania.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called the attacks on the mosques “one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” noting that many of the victims were likely migrants or refugees.
The gunman behind at least one of the mosque shootings left a 74-page manifesto posted on social media, identifying himself as a 28-year-old Australian and white nationalist who wanted to avenge attacks in Europe perpetrated by Muslims.
He also livestreamed his attack on worshippers at Christchurch’s Al Noor Mosque. An attack on a second mosque in the city not long after killed several more.
Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich said the root of this attack was hatred, fear and ignorance of the ‘other,’ which he said “fuels attitudes that dehumanize whole communities and blame them for perceived ills in society.”
“Let this horrific affront to decency be a call to action by all people who cherish our common humanity. Religious, civil and political leaders have a responsibility not only to condemn these criminal acts, but to hold each other accountable for combating the attitudes which breed them. Let us recommit ourselves to this task today, welcoming one another as ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ whenever we encounter them.”
The cardinal said “with a heavy heart” he urged Chicago’s archdiocesan parishes to offer prayers for those who died in New Zealand and for their Muslim neighbors locally.
“Also, in all hope and humility let us pray for the perpetrators of this violence and those who harbor hate toward others based on race or religion. May they come to see the humanity in their brothers and sisters and release the hatred,” he added.