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Orlando shooting victims remembered at Xavier prayer service

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Reverend Abby King-Kaiser, Assistant Director for Ecumenical and Multifaith activities at Xavier University’s Dorothy Day Center for Faith and Justice, shared a prayer for Blessed Oscar Romero by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw, Mich. with roughly 100 students, staff and others gathered to remember those killed in Orlando. (CT Photo/John Stegeman)

Xavier University is 906 miles from the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Fla. but the tears shed on campus Tuesday fell in solidarity with the the victims of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

Responding to the June 12 rampage in Orlando that left 49 dead, Xavier University hosted a prayer service at the Gallagher Student Center for the victims, survivors and others affected by the tragedy.

Tears fell throughout the June 14 program which included prayer, poems, reflections and a reading of victim’s names. The program included many nods to the LGBT community, owing to the Pulse Nightclub being a well known gay bar.

“Sunday’s attack was a painful invitation for us to celebrate our identity as a Jesuit Catholic university,” said David Johnson, Associate Provost and Chief Student Affairs Officer at Xavier University, in prepared remarks. “As a Jesuit university, we are deeply committed to solidarity and we are deeply committed to social justice. One way we live up to those commitments to celebrate solidarity and social justice is that we contribute to the creation of communities, on our campus and beyond our campus, where individuals can be their fullest and individuals can be their truest selves, whether they be gay, or whether they be Muslim or whether they be Catholic or whether they be immigrant.”

Reverend Abby King-Kaiser, Assistant Director for Ecumenical and Multifaith activities at Xavier University’s Dorothy Day Center for Faith and Justice, shared a prayer for Blessed Oscar Romero by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw, Mich.

Kelsey O’Neil works for Xavier University’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion and is also listed online as advisor to the university’s LGBTQ Alliance student group.

“Since Sunday morning it seems I have thought about nothing else,” O’Neil said. “I’ve cried and mourned for my community, the LGBT community, the lives we’ve lost in Orlando, those we love and those that love us and our allies… This sense of safety has been stripped away.”

Amari Alexander, a Xavier student and vice president of the LGBTQ Alliance, also spoke.

“Sometimes we become too unaware of the hatred that is still prominent in the world,” she said. “Sometimes the only thing that can break through our blindness is a mass act of violence. Even still, we can become blinded by other things such as shock, grief, anger or a mixture of all. The only way to truly open your eyes is to love.”

In addition to the talks, organizers made available a canvas that attendees could sign to show their support, and another where they could leave a fingerprint in rainbow colored paints.

After the program Johnson expanded on Xavier University and the Catholic need to respond in times of tragedy against any marginalized community, including LGBT.

“This is a community that feels strongly that we should respond to such an incident,” he said, noting that between 100 and 150 students attended despite classes not being in session. “There’s been a strong response from the Catholic Church as a whole and I think we’re just one part of that. This is an injury to all, and we acknowledge it as such.

“In line with our traditions, we wanted this to be a place where we could pray,” Johnson said of the decision to host a prayer service. “We believe that we need God in order to help us take the steps that need to be taken to build a world defined by peace and reconciliation. We need to create the space for God to infuse and inform our actions so they’re all the more effective and successful.”

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