Father Bert Chilson says he prepared for the worst when he first heard the news about the July 20 shooting at a movie theater minutes from his parish in Aurora, Colo.
“We were waiting, with bated breath, to really be scrambling,” said the pastor of St. Therese Catholic Church, citing his fear that parishioners may have been caught in the violence.
No parishioners from St. Therese were among the victims, but some were displaced from their homes while police deactivated explosives in the suspected gunman’s apartment.
In the end, the parish only had to handle the flood of calls and e-mails from parishioners, neighbors and friends checking for news and volunteering their help.
“It makes me proud,” Father Chilson said of the community’s response to the shootings. “We have to know that some good is going to come from (this). Perhaps we can be conduits of that good.”
The priest concelebrated a July 20 Mass for victims with Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila and took the archbishop's message of mercy to St. Therese parishioners at July 22 Masses.
“One of the great traditions of our Church is that we do not seek vengeance, but we seek forgiveness,” Fr. Chilson said. “We need to forgive this young man, even though we don’t like him … It’s the only way to live in peace and stop the violence.”
Parishioner Hilda Gonzalez said her pastor's message of peace and forgiveness was not easy, but helped her recommit to prayer for and support of her parish and those who lost family or friends in the violence.
“It will be very difficult for me to forgive (the gunman),” she said. “But I think it’s important to pray and help each other if we can.”
Father Chilson said forgiveness is the only way to promote a culture of life, which all Catholics are called to celebrate and protect “no matter what.”