Religious leaders from various backgrounds came together with community members of all ages and backgrounds to pray for the people of the city of Orlando that God’s mercy and love will be upon the community as all seek healing and consolation.
“We’re all one big family. We’re here in the name of Jesus. We are gathered here because maybe not all of us have someone in common that we know but we are all one community no matter the religion, what they believed in or who they were,” said Natalia Gil, 22 year old parishioner of St. Isaac Jogues. She attended the prayer service with 10 others from her ministry. Some in her group knew the victims either by face or by name. One young woman in the group held back tears and was unable to speak as she mourned for a cousin who was at Pulse nightclub when a gunman opened fire and took 49 lives and injured more than 40 more.
Gil said she spoke for the group when she said faith is the source of their strength.
“It’s making us want to help our community more. The strength God has given us, the faith He has given us. The spirit He has given us to move forward to want to help others and console others. We are here to receive so we can give back,” said Gil.
Bishop John Noonan led the prayer service on June 13 at St. James Cathedral, just blocks from where the shooting happened. Bishop Noonan was joined at the altar by other religious leaders including bishop emeritus of the St. Petersburg Diocese Most Reverend Robert Lynch; Imam Tariq Rashid, Islamic Center of Orlando; Rt. Rev. Greg Brewer, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida; Deacon Michael Matheny, St. Luke Episcopal Cathedral; Huseyin Peker, The Atlantic Institute–Central Florida; Reverend Tom McCloskey, First United Methodist Church, Orlando; Reverend John Harris, Downtown Baptist Church and Rev. Dr. Robert Spooney, Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church.
“Our presence here tonight is a symbol of hope. We come to pray,” said Bishop Noonan. “We come not as different religions but one in the Lord,” added Bishop Noonan. He said that he was familiar with violence in his home country of Ireland and stressed that people will only find peace when they recognize the dignity of all people as children of God.
About 700 gathered in the church singing hymns, reading Scripture and hearing reflections on peace. The prayers were focused on peace, how God alone is lasting source of peace and rest. There was a reflection by Blessed Oscar Romero on peace.
Those wishing to light a candle in the sanctuary were invited to come forward and the glimmering light filled the church. Rev. Dr. Robert Spooney, Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, led a litany titled “Let us be Your Peace Lord,” a prayer of intercession for peace and deliverance from violence. Then the congregation stood together to pray the Lord’s Prayer.
Imam Tariq Rashid, Islamic Center of Orlando was invited to participate in the prayer service by Father John Giel, pastor of Holy Family Parish, Orlando. They are friends and have participated in interfaith services previously. He has lived in Orlando for 22 years and has three children in the schools here.
“I consider this my city and the city of my children. I feel the same sentiments. This is the time when the local community from different religions should come together and show terrorists that no matter how much evil they do they cannot break our unity or break our strength,” said Rashid.
Maria Torres participated in the prayer service at St. James Cathedral. She is an accredited representative for Comprehensive Refugee Services at Catholic Charities of Central Florida. She volunteered at the headquarters where family members were told to wait to hear notifications if loved ones had survived. She was there to help translate for Spanish speakers, offered support and consolation to victim’s families.
“It was a blessing to be here. We can pray anywhere, but it is a special blessing to be here at this vigil, to join with other members of our community in prayer for the victims and their families,” said Torres.
St. Stephen Parish, Winter Springs, also held a prayer vigil on June 13. Nearly 500 people from all walks of life participated seeking to receive comfort and to offer comfort to others through prayer. The Vigil included an opening prayer, music, prayer from St. Francis, Scripture readings, a homily from Fr. George Dunne, time for reflection and adoration and a closing prayer.
“There was a sense among our parishioners that we needed to gather around the Eucharist in prayer for the victims and their families,” said Father George Dunne, Associate Pastor at St. Stephen parish in Winter Springs.
“It was a very powerful to witness the sense of community support and mercy toward one another,” said Father John Bluett, pastor.