It shouldn’t take a hard week in Florida

by Bishop Felipe J. Estévez

One can have no doubt that this has been a hard week for Florida, particularly for my neighbors to the south in Orlando. First the senseless shooting death of singer-songwriter Christina Grimmie of the TV show The Voice on Saturday, then Sunday morning’s horrific mass shooting at the PULSE gay bar, and finally the painful news of a toddler dragged into the water by an alligator at a vacation resort, June 14. Taken together, these stories are a drumbeat of heartbreak and human tragedy. And in their wake, we see the usual messy flurry of human generosity, policy debates, and overall struggle for meaning.

People gather in San Francisco, Calif., June 13, to mourn and honor the victims of a mass shooting at a gay night club in Orlando, Fla. (CNS photo/John G. Mabanglo, EPA) See POPE-ORLANDO June 13, 2016.

People gather in San Francisco, Calif., June 13, to mourn and honor the victims of a mass shooting at a gay night club in Orlando, Fla. (CNS photo/John G. Mabanglo, EPA)

We should pray to remember the perspective this period of upheaval forces on us. Because as a people ever striving toward God, it shouldn’t require such jarring examples to jolt us awake. We should be striving to be better all the time.

The murder of a talented young woman provokes sorrow for the vibrancy and potential cut short. And while this is newsworthy, so many other people’s lives are discarded every day, whether from abortion, addiction, poverty, violence or other means. Pope Francis said in Evangelii Gaudium, “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure…?” We should feel a deeper empathy whether the person was known to us or not. As Pope Francis also says, “To be a Christian is to weep.”

Similarly, it shouldn’t take 49 of our children being mercilessly shot to death for us to recognize our shared humanity, regardless of our lifestyle or paradigm of marriage and human sexuality. When the victims of the PULSE shooting were made public, the world learned that they were predominately young and Latino. This should sound familiar to the Catholic Church. We are young and Latino and we cannot fail to be attentive to people, whether they are found in our pews, our neighborhoods or gays and lesbians in our families.

It also shouldn’t take a tragedy of this magnitude to yet again reignite the discussion around whether current policy is doing all it can to protect human life. Even the Holy See is beginning to take into account how the killing efficiency of our weapons technology raises the threshold for when it’s morally acceptable to take up arms. If rising violence can put Catholic social teaching on the table, surely the carnage perpetrated by assault weapons can force us to revisit the application of a constitutional amendment written with village militias and single-shot muskets in mind.

With the PULSE shooting and the drowning death of the child, we have seen a profound outpouring of goodness and generosity — people lined up for blocks to give blood, strangers giving tens of thousands of dollars to the family whose child was taken from them. And as with the murder of the young singer, we should remember people suffer loss and have need of care every day.

We should strive to be a culture of care full time. As Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley noted after the PULSE shooting, “we must be aware of and reflect on how we think and speak about those who are different from us. And we cannot allow ourselves to be defeated by the worst instincts in human nature, by efforts to divide us based on our differences or by an immobilizing fear.”

In a diocese with a large population of immigrants and refugees, I can attest to the destructive impact of rhetoric that irresponsibly foments alienation and a sense of threatening otherness. As a refugee from Cuba myself, I can also attest to the enormous potential that can be unlocked when refugees find a welcoming, nurturing home in a new land. It has been a hard week in Florida, but the light always breaks through the darkness. And it has shown that we still have, in the words of Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia, “the capacity for generosity, commitment, love and even heroism.” I am grateful to God to call this country home.

Bishop Estévez wrote this commentary for Our Sunday Visitor