PORTLAND, Oregon — In response to ongoing mass shootings around the nation, St. Anthony Parish in Tigard, Oregon, held a prayer service June 7 called a “lament for gun violence.”
The event drew a small group that hopes to link spiritual teaching to gun regulation and convince Oregonians to support stricter safety measures.
“Gun violence is claiming the lives of innocent human beings,” said Danny Rauda, social justice coordinator at St. Anthony. “I truly believe this is a pro-life issue.”
Rauda had checked statistics and found there had been more than 30 mass shootings since the May 24 Uvalde, Texas, tragedy in which a shooter with two AR-15 semi-automatic rifles murdered 19 children and two teachers.
“As Catholics, we are called to stand up for the common good of our nation,” Rauda wrote in a reflection printed in the prayer service program. “We are called to stand up for the lives of the innocent. We are called to defend life at all stages, in all circumstances. … We are called to be pro-life without exception, without hesitation.”
Readings included a passage from Jeremiah in which Rachel mourns for her slaughtered children and the beatitudes in which Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” and “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
Father John Henderson, pastor of St. Anthony, was in Washington, D.C., with eighth graders from the parish school on the day of the service. But he had written a strong reflection after the Uvalde shootings, and Rauda read it to worshippers.
“There is no doubt in my heart that we are broken and that we don’t get it,” Henderson wrote. “Murder after murder. Moments of silence don’t change anything! Until we recognize that each person is sacred, created by God, unique, beautiful persons, then nothing will change.”
Henderson wrote that he is no political leader, but “a priest proclaiming God’s love and calling people to a radical embrace of life.”
“I need God, not a gun,” he concluded. “I need to follow God’s will, not my own agenda.”
A multicultural and multigenerational choir led the songs, including the prayer of St. Francis and a litany for those who suffer that said in part, “For the victims of violence, racism and bigotry. For the hateful, close-minded, trapped by pride and jealousy.”
The choir ended the service with “Hallelujah Is Our Song,” a hymn that says in part, “What hope we have, even in the longest night, for the light will overcome.”
After the service, Rauda distributed petitions to put a voter initiative on the November ballot in Oregon that would require a background check, safety training and a fee for a permit to acquire firearms.
The initiative, sponsored by an interfaith committee called Lift Every Voice Oregon, also would prohibit high-capacity magazines often used in mass shootings and mandate state police to maintain a database of new firearm permits.
Rauda quoted Pope Francis, who has both condemned unregulated gun sales and who in 2013 said prayer that doesn’t lead to action for the good of others is “fruitless and incomplete.”
Langlois is managing editor of the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland.