The Bishop of Trenton condemned gun violence and called for prayer in a statement following a shooting early Sunday that left one dead and 22 injured.
“The epidemic of gun violence has struck once again, this time close to home,” Bishop David M. O’Connell of the Diocese of Trenton said in a statement Sunday.
“The people of Trenton awoke this morning to the tragic news that twenty of our brothers and sisters - our families, neighbors and friends - were injured during a mass shooting in the early hours of Sunday morning…” he said.
According to reports from authorities, the shooting happened around 2:45 a.m. on Sunday, June 17 at the Art All Night-Trenton festival, a 24-hour art exhibit that has been displayed annually for 12 years.
A 33 year-old man, Tahaij Wells, was reportedly identified as a suspect and shot and killed by police. Wells had just been released from prison on homicide-related charges, according to CNN. Another man, Amir Armstrong, 23, has also reportedly been charged in connection to the incident.
“We pray for the injured and their families, for comfort and healing. We pray in thanksgiving for the first responders and emergency workers. And we pray for our community here in Trenton that God’s peace and our love for one another might prevail,” O’Connell said.
O’Connell’s sentiments echo those of bishops throughout the country who have found themselves looking for words to comfort their grieving communities in the wake of mass shootings.
He joins numerous other bishops who have had to respond to similar tragedies in the months since the October 2017 Las Vegas shooting, which killed 58 people and left hundreds more injured, and has been called the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.
“Our hearts go out to everyone,” Bishop Joseph A. Pepe of Las Vegas said in his response to that shooting. He offered prayers for the victims and their families, as well as the first responders and all involved in the incident.
He added that he was “very heartened’ by the stories of the Good Samaritans amidst the tragedy, and prayed for an end to violence throughout the world.
The following month, at least two bishops responded to shootings in their dioceses, including Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio, Texas, who offered his prayers and condolences following the shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, which killed 26 people.
“We need prayers! The families affected in the shooting this morning at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs need prayers. The evil perpetrated on these who were gathered to worship God on the Lord’s Day – especially children and the elderly – makes no sense and will never be fully understood,” Garcia-Siller said at the time.
The following week, Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento led the U.S. bishops' general assembly in prayer following a shooting in his diocese in which at least four people and several more were injured at several sites in and around Ranch Tehema Reserve, a small community located about 130 miles northwest of Sacramento.
“I would ask if we could take a moment to ask God's mercy not only on those affected by this [incident], but on all affected by gun violence in these times. Let us ask for Mary's intercession for these people,” he said Nov. 14, before leading the bishops in the Hail Mary.
In January 2018, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and two other bishops responded to two school shootings that occurred within the same week, one in Texas and one in Kentucky.
On Jan. 22 at Italy High School in Italy, Texas, about 50 miles south of Dallas, a teenage girl was injured in a shooting.
On Jan. 23, a student opened fire at Marshall County High School in Benton, Ky., about 120 miles southwest of Owensboro, killing two students and injuring 20 others.
The shootings were “painful reminders of how gun violence can tragically alter the lives of those so precious to us – our school children,” DiNardo said in a statement at the time.
Bishop William Medley of Owensboro offered his prayers for the victims as well as for the shooter in the Marshall County shooting. “May the Lord bring comfort to the family who lost their loved one today, and to all of the students and their families who have to endure the aftermath of this school shooting. Let us all pray for peace across our nation,” he said in a Jan. 23 statement.
In response to the Benton shooting, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville offered his “deepest sympathies to the families of the victims and their friends, teachers and staff as well as the first responders and the whole community of Benton.”
“We know that God’s love overcomes all evil. May the souls of the departed rest in peace and may God’s merciful love sustain the victims and those who love and support them as they heal from the physical and emotional wounds of this senseless act of violence,” Kurtz added.
In February of this year, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami urged unity and strength in his diocese following a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland which killed 17 students and injured dozens more.
“We pray for the deceased and wounded, for their families and loved ones, for our first responders and our entire South Florida community,” Wenski said at the time. He urged all Floridians to come together as a community, remain strong, and “resist evil in all its manifestations.”
Following the Parkland shooting, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Fla., and Bishop George V. Murry, S.J., of Youngstown, Ohio, also issued a joint statement calling for “common-sense gun measures” and dialogue about specific proposals that could reduce gun violence, improve school safety and improve access to mental health resources.
In May, DiNardo once again responded to a mass shooting, this time in his own diocese, when a shooter at Santa Fe High School outside of Houston killed 10 and injured 13 others.
“Sadly, I must yet again point out the obvious brokenness in our culture and society, such that children who went to school this morning to learn and teachers who went to inspire them will not come home,” he said. “We as a nation must, here and now, say definitively: no more death! Our Lord is the Lord of life. May He be with us in our sorrow and show us how to honor the precious gift of life and live in peace.”
Prayer as a response to shootings or other deadly incidents has in recent years been criticized by some commentators, called pointless or secondary in comparison to advocacy for gun control policies or mental health resources.
The day after a shooting in San Bernardino, Calif. killed 14 on Dec. 2, 2015, the cover of the New York Daily News said “God isn’t fixing this” - a response to politicians and public figures who offered “thoughts and prayers” after the tragedy, but allegedly took insufficient action to prevent such shootings from occurring in the future.
However, Monsignor Robert Weiss, who was pastor in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012 when a shooter killed 11 children at an elementary school, has said that turning to God is a necessary part of the response to tragedy.
“To whom do you go? Do you rely on yourself? Because there’s no way you can individually handle these kinds of experiences,” he told CNA in a 2017 interview following the Las Vegas shooting. He recalled professionals telling him in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting that “we can only do so much for these people” to help them heal from the tragedy.
“There is only one place to turn, and it’s to turn to the Lord and find some sort of understanding of this,” he said.
Police in Trenton have said that Sunday’s shooting seems to be gang-related, and not an act of terrorism.
“There is no motive, however, that can justify these ongoing, seemingly relentless acts of gun violence plaguing our cities. How many times can our hearts break?” O’Connell said. “Once again, we fall to our knees to beg the Almighty to help us end these senseless assaults on innocent life in our communities.”