Mourners gather in Minneapolis to remember the 49 who were killed and the 53 who were wounded in the Pulse Nightclub shooting June 12 in Orlando, Fla. Photo: Fibonacci Blue/Wikimedia Commons
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, is asking Canadian Anglicans to join him in prayers for the many victims of the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, over the weekend—and for advocates of LGBTQ rights within and outside the church.
He also asks for prayers for the victims’ families, the police and health workers who have responded to the tragedy, Muslim communities and U.S. gun control advocates, including President Barack Obama.
“As I have been travelling over the last number of days, I have watched— horrified—as once again the people of the United States of America are plunged into national mourning in the wake of yet another mass shooting,” Hiltz says in a statement released Tuesday, June 14. “A hailstorm of gunfire has left 49 people dead, 53 seriously wounded, their families in shock and grief, the LGBTQ+ [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer] community traumatized, Muslim communities shaken and all people of goodwill horror-struck.”
Shortly after 2 a.m. on the morning of Sunday, June 12, a lone gunman entered Pulse, a gay nightclub in the Florida city, and started shooting. The man, later identified as Omar Mateen, 29, of nearby Port St. Lucie, Fla., was killed about three hours later in a shootout with police at the club.
“Our hearts have gone out first to parents who lost their children, siblings who lost brothers and sisters, partners who lost their beloved and all bereft of friendships they cherished,” Hiltz said. “Let us hold them gently in our prayers.”
Hiltz then mentions various groups of people affected by the tragedy, each time asking for prayers.
“Our hearts go out to the LGBTQ+ communities across the world, particularly in the United States and Canada. We acknowledge the discrimination with which these communities have lived for so long in our societies and in our churches,” he says.
“We note with great sadness the horrendous persecution of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex people in many countries around the world. We condemn laws that criminalize them. Let us hold them gently in our prayers.”
Hiltz also requests prayers for the police and health care workers who responded to the tragedy, as well as those who donated blood for the victims.
He also asks for prayers for victims of racism and for those “who work so hard to rid the world of this evil.”
Hiltz then makes the same request for “all who in civil society and within the churches have long advocated for the dignity, inclusion and fair treatment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people including an acknowledgement of the integrity and sanctity of their relationships in covenanted love.”
The primate also refers to U.S. president Barack Obama, the string of mass shootings that have occurred during his presidency and his struggle to win Americans over to tougher gun control laws.
“This is the 15th time in his term as president that he has had to address the nation in the aftermath of mass shootings...and this is the worst one with respect to the number of casualties,” Hiltz says. “In his plea for controls in a culture that defends ‘the right to bear arms,’ he has been unrelenting...Let us hold the president gently in our prayers, and all who work with him to put effective gun control measures in place.”
Hiltz asks for prayers in support of Muslims unjustly associated with this and other acts of violence.
“Our hearts go out to all who struggle with the haste of so many to ostracize Muslims for the terrorist activities of a few, many of whom act alone in the name of Allah,” he says. “Such horrific crimes against humanity are an affront to Islam and very upsetting to devout Muslims.
“Let us hold them and their imams gently in our prayers…and all people who are committed to interfaith dialogue and common witness in the interest of the well-being of all people and peace among the nations.”
Hiltz states that his call to prayer for these groups is “rooted in our baptismal vow to ‘respect the dignity of every human being.’ ”
His call also, he says, “summons us to reach out to LGBTQ+ people and communities in our midst, and for a time to weep together and then, in a manner like never before, to work together for the protection and honouring of the dignity, equality, rights, and freedom for all.
“Let us be gentle and then let us be bold. Nothing less will do if we are to bear a faithful witness to the Gospel of Christ,” the primate’s statement concludes.
Earlier this week, two Canadian Anglican bishops joined religious leaders around the world in condemning the attack in Orlando.
Meanwhile, in a statement released Tuesday, June 14, Bishop Don Phillips, of the diocese of Rupert's Land, compared the mass shooting to Montreal's École Polytechnique massacre of Dec. 6, 1989, when a man armed with a rifle shot 28 people, mostly women, killing 14 of them. In that tragedy, Phillips said, women, like the LGBTQ victims in Orlando, were targeted simply for being who they were. And as the Montreal massacre prompted many Canadians to take a stand in support of the rights of women, the shooting in Orlando should motivate us to stand up in support of LGBT people, he said.
"Just as the Montreal event sensitized us to be more conscious of, and challenging to, instances of violence against women (physical – but also emotional, psychological and spiritual), the Orlando event must sensitize us to be more conscious of, and challenging to, instances of violence and discrimination against LGBTQ communities and persons," he said.
"The Orlando Massacre is a sober reminder that all of us are, and should be, affected by what took place. As the poet and Anglican priest, John Donne, so aptly wrote: 'Never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee'."
(Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a statement issued by the bishop of the diocese of Rupert's Land, Donald Phillips.)
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Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer.
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