After synagogue shooting, Bishop Zubik pleads for prayer, end to anti-Jewish bigotry

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Police line. Caution tape. Credit:carl ballou. Shutterstock.

Multiple people were killed and many others injured at a Pittsburgh synagogue Saturday morning, with the gunman allegedly shouting he wanted all Jews to die. In response, Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh strongly denounced  anti-Jewish bigotry and called for prayer that turns into action.

“May God free us from fear and hatred, and sow peace in our lives, our communities, and in the world,” Bishop Zubik said Oct. 27.

“As we are all devastated by this morning’s massacre at Tree of Life Congregation, my heart and prayers are especially lifted up for our Jewish sisters and brothers and the law enforcement officers who rushed into harm’s way.”

The shooting took place at the Tree of Life Synagogue, a Conservative Jewish congregation in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood. Zubik said the diocese and the synagogue’s relationship has been “close over many years.”

Though Pittsburgh Police spokesman Chris Togneri confirmed multiple casualties and the fact that three police officers were shot in the confrontation, he did not say how many deaths there were.

Other police sources said eight people were killed. The gunman had yelled “All Jews must die” upon walking into the building, according to the Pittsburgh CBS television affiliate KDKA.

Police said the suspect, 48-year-old white man, Robert Bowers, is in custody.

Michael Eisenberg, the past president of the Tree of Life congregation, told KDKA that there were three simultaneous congregations’ services that were being held, including a Shabbat service. He estimated the two larger services had about 40 people each, while a smaller group would have had about 15 people.

Bishop Zubik stressed the importance of prayer, loving one’s neighbor, and working to end bigotry.

“Anti-Jewish bigotry, and all religious and ethnic bigotry, is a terrible sin,” he said. “As we pray for peace in our communities and comfort for the grieving, we must put prayer into action by loving our neighbors and working to make ‘Never again!’ a reality.”

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, commended to God the victims and the first responders and prayed for the consolation of their families.

“May Almighty God be with them and bring them comfort at this tragic time," he said.

“To our brothers and sisters of the Jewish community, we stand with you. We condemn all acts of violence and hate and yet again, call on our nation and public officials to confront the plague of gun violence,” the cardinal continued. “Violence as a response to political, racial, or religious differences must be confronted with all possible effort. God asks nothing less of us. He begs us back to our common humanity as His sons and daughters.”

Bishop Paul Bradley of Kalamazoo, Mich., who served as an auxiliary bishop in Pittsburgh from 2004 to 2009,  reacted to the shooting in a Twitter post.

“In the face of the awful tragedy in a Pittsburgh synagogue where at least eight people were murdered and dozens more traumatized, let us once more pray that God will take those killed into his merciful arms and grant them eternal rest. Let there be peace in the world and in our hearts,” he said.

U.S. President Donald Trump also denounced the shootings.

“It’s a terrible terrible thing what’s going on with hate in our country, and frankly all over the world and something has be done,” Trump told reporters. “It’s just a shame to watch this and to see it for so many years, so much of it, it’s a shame.”

The president speculated that the presence of an armed guard could have changed the outcome.

“If they had an armed guard inside, they might have been able to stop him immediately,” he said. “Isn’t it a shame that we even have to think of that, inside of a temple or inside a church? But certainly the results might have been far better.”

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf called the shooting “an absolute tragedy.”

“These senseless acts of violence are not who we are as Americans,” he said. “My thoughts right now are focused on the victims, their families and making sure law enforcement has every resource they need.”

Denouncing the harm caused by “dangerous weapons,” he called for action to “prevent these tragedies in the future.”

“We cannot accept this violence as normal.”
 
Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich said the shooting is being investigated as a possible hate crime and the FBI is leading the investigation.

In 2017 the Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh announced that it had hired former FBI agent Brad Orsini to provide security. He had spent a year conducting safety training at area Jewish day schools, synagogues and community groups, the Pittsburgh Gazette reports.

This story was updated at 4:07 p.m. Eastern Time to include the USCCB statement from Cardinal DiNardo.

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