By Joyce Duriga
Catholic News Service
CHICAGO (CNS) — When members of the Chicago Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach gathered the evening of June 19 for their regular weekly Mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, they had as their focus the victims of the mass shooting June 12 at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
The mass shooting left 50 people dead, including the gunman, and more than 50 others wounded.
A memorial to the dead stood in front of the altar with photos of the victims. During the prayers of the faithful at Mass, the names and ages of victims were read while candles were lit for each person. After Mass, many people went up to the altar to pray before the memorial and to take photos.
The Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach began in 1988 as a way to extend the church’s pastoral outreach to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics throughout the archdiocese. In addition to holding service projects in the community and social events, the community meets each Sunday for an evening Mass.
At Mass June 12, the day of the Orlando shooting, a letter to members of the outreach from Chicago Archbishop Blase J. Cupich was read.
“For you here today and throughout the whole lesbian and gay community, who are particularly touched by the heinous crimes committed in Orlando, motivated by hate, driven perhaps by mental instability and certainly empowered by a culture of violence, know this: The Archdiocese of Chicago stands with you. I stand with you,” the archbishop said in the letter.
“Let our shared grief and our common faith in Jesus, who called the persecuted blessed, unite us,” he continued, “so that hatred and intolerance are not allowed to flourish, so that those who suffer mental illness know the support of a compassionate society, so that we find the courage to face forthrightly the falsehood that weapons of combat belong anywhere in the civilian population.”
The letter was posted on the group’s website — http://www.aglochicago.org — and on a pillar outside of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Academy next door to the church.
That same day, Archbishop Cupich also released a statement to the public.
“Our prayers and hearts are with the victims of the mass shooting in Orlando, their families and our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters,” the statement read. “The people of the Archdiocese of Chicago stand with the victims and their loved ones, and reaffirm our commitment, with Pope Francis, to address the causes of such tragedy, including easy access to deadly weapons. We can no longer stand by and do nothing.”
Steve Engles, co-director of the archdiocesan outreach, said that their community valued Archbishop Cupich reaching out to them and doing so the same day as the shooting.
“The archbishop made it very clear that he stands with us. We’re extremely appreciative of the support he expressed for not only the members of AGLO and the victims in Orlando but the community at large,” said Engles told the Catholic New World, Chicago’s archdiocesan newspaper.
Leaning on the faith can help people through grieving tragedies, which is something the outreach community understands.
“It’s a regular group of people who come here every Sunday. People are here not out of a sense of duty or obligation. They are here because they want to be here,” Engles said. “It is a source of comfort to people.”
Outreach director Joe Vitek agreed.
“Our faith is a difficult one if we want to walk in the steps of Jesus. He calls us to carry a cross. Especially in the Catholic gay and lesbian community we’re always fighting to be a part of the faith to show that we are a part of the church,” said Vitek. “What I saw tonight was our church embracing us and helping us carry that cross together.”
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Duriga is editor of the Catholic New World, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago.