CHARLESTON—A rainbow hung in the sky June 15 as people exited Blessed Sacrament Church after a special evening liturgy commemorating the one-year anniversary of the horrific shootings at Emanuel AME Church.
Father Joseph Romanoski, pastor at Blessed Sacrament, said it was a sign for many that God was still in charge, offering hope, grace and mercy to all those who seek it.
The holy sacrifice of the Mass was a chance for people to come together to reflect on the somber anniversary of June 17 when Dylann Roof of Columbia attended a Bible study at Emanuel AME in downtown Charleston. The young man with avowed white supremacist views opened fire on the small crowd gathered in a basement classroom at the church. Nine African-American men and women died, including their senior pastor, Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, who was also a state senator.
Roof was later captured in North Carolina and now faces state and federal charges. His trial in South Carolina begins Jan. 17.
People at the Mass also joined with those across the nation and around the world grieving for 49 men and women killed June 12 by a gunman at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla.
Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone said that acts of violence and hatred like what happened in Charleston and now Orlando stem from a deep disrespect for human life which has developed throughout today’s culture.
“There is such dysfunction and disrespect for life in our culture, and we have to find ways to stop this,” he said. “People have to get closer to a sense of recognizing themselves as sons and daughters of a loving God. We can’t do these kinds of things to our brothers and sisters. People have to start looking into their own consciences and realize that violence is never the answer.”
Bishop Guglielmone said people trying to make sense of the most recent tragedy in Orlando can take some inspiration from the way the families of the Emanuel AME victims reacted.
“In the midst of horror and violence, the families were able to offer forgiveness,” he said. “That indicated their hearts were full of God’s love, and that is what really has to happen. We have to find a way to change the hearts of people.”
Father Romanoski and four visiting priests prayed for the men and women slain in Charleston and Orlando, and for their families. They prayed also for peace for other victims of violence around the world.
Father Romanoski gave a homily that drew on messages from the Gospel, and urged the crowd to remember that Jesus responded to evil and violence with love.
“We need to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us,” he said. “Our response should be the same as the Lord’s. Jesus loved the people around Him, and he absorbed the evil that happened to Him and took it with Him to the cross. He never returned evil with evil. He always returned good, and that is what we need to continue to do despite the evil that happens in this world.”
The priest also talked about the immediate flow of goodness that emerges after evil strikes. He reflected on how the shootings in Charleston and in Orlando took time to plan and carry out, but that the show of love and forgiveness that came from people in both cities afterward, including some of the victims’ families, was unplanned and spontaneous.
“Last year in Charleston there was an overwhelming positive response of love and compassion compared to one individual’s hate crime, and now the same thing is happening after Florida,” he said. “Goodness flows very quickly from the hearts of Christ’s followers.”
Top photo: Miscellany/Doug Deas: Father Joseph Romanoski, pastor, and four visiting priests prayed for the men and women slain in Charleston and Orlando, and for their families at a memorial Mass held June 15 at Blessed Sacrament Church in Charleston.