Archbishop José H. Gomez joined other religious leaders in praying for the  the tragic murder of Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney and the eight members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

“What has happened is sad, tragic and senseless,” he said in a June 19 Facebook post. “We need to pray harder and work harder to put an end to racism in our country and gun violence in our communities.”

The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops expressed “grief and deep sadness” on behalf of the Church in the United States.

“There have been far too many heartbreaking losses in the African-American community this year alone,” Louisville Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz said in a June 19 press release “Our prayers are with all those suffering from this heinous crime.”

Dylann Roof, 21, admitted to the premeditated murder of nine Bible study members after joining the group on the pretense that he was interested in the discussion. Roof sat with the study group for an hour before opening fire with a .45-caliber handgun. A witness heard Roof make racially inflammatory statements before fleeing the scene.  

Archbishop Kurtz offered his support to the grieving families of the victims, saying, “We join our voices with civic and religious leaders in pledging to work for healing and reconciliation. Our efforts must address racism and the violence so visible today.”

He also reiterated the Church’s condemnation of the evil of racism by quoting a U.S. Catholic Bishops pastoral letter: “Racism is not merely one sin among many; it is a radical evil that divides the human family and denies the new creation of a redeemed world. To struggle against it demands an equally radical transformation, in our own minds and hearts as well as in the structure of our society.”

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley told NBC News the church shooting is “an absolute hate crime” and added, “We will absolutely want him [Dylann Roof] to have the death penalty.”