Bishop Gerald Kicanas was in Israel meeting with other bishops when tragedy struck Tucson on Saturday morning.
“I broke down when I heard in Jerusalem the horrific news of the shootings in Tucson. I said ‘That could not be,’ ” he wrote in a homily.
Tuesday evening, Kicanas came to St. Odilia Church, just blocks from the shooting scene, to try to reassure the hundreds of people gathered for a “Mass for the Healing of Our Community” that God had not abandoned them — that He “stands by us, walks with us, holds us in the palm of His hand.”
The church holds 700 and its pews were filled, many more people watched the Mass from the parish hall. The bishop also led an interfaith service earlier in the evening across town.
Kicanas, leader of Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson, urged those in attendance at St. Odilia to use the tragedy to “commit our efforts to rid our communities of violence and all that causes it.”
The six killed are with God, he said. “He knows Christina, John, Gabe, Dorwan, Phyllis and Dorothy by name,” he said. “He receives them and welcomes them home.”
Kicanas offered prayers for those wounded, mentioning by first name U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and Ron Barber, her district director.
Kicanas said “God does vigil by those harmed, especially Gabrielle and Ron, still in intensive care, and all the other injured. He loves and cares for each of them. He wills their full recovery.”
Kicanas said he visited University Medical Center and spoke with Barber and Giffords’ husband, Mark Kelly.
Father Richard Troutman, pastor of St. Odilia, said before Mass that he also prayed for the parents of Jared Lee Loughner, the 22-year-old-man charged in the shootings. “They must feel terrible,” he said.
Loughner can be forgiven, he said. “You can forgive someone who certainly must pay civil penalties.”
Forgiveness was also on the mind of Julieta Gonzalez, flautist at the Mass, who said she has been a friend of Barber’s since the 1980s.
She said the most difficult command Jesus gave was in the words of the “Our Father” — “To forgive those who have trespassed against us.”
“As Catholics and as Tucsonans, we need to turn the anger into love and positive action,” she said.
That was also a theme of Kicanis’ homily. He said God will judge our worth “by how we react and relate to each other. We are to resist evil, to live with integrity, to speak with civility and respect,” he said.
The names of two of those slain — Christina-Taylor Green and John Roll were uppermost on the minds of many attending the Mass.
Roll, a federal judge, attended church at St. Thomas the Apostle, where he served as a lector, reading from scripture during the celebration of Mass.
Nine-year-old Christina sang in St. Odilia’s children’s choir.
“She had a beautiful voice,” said Giselle Muñoz, 10, who added without prompting. “She was way too young. It is sad.”
Muñoz had been brought to the Mass by her father Robert Muñoz, because he wanted his three children and his niece to “see and feel what had happened.”
The girls regularly attend the Sunday children’s Mass at St. Odilia and enjoyed the singing of Christina and the “Joyful Noise” choir.
On Tuesday, the choir brought the audience to tears as it sung “Amazing Grace” and “Here I am Lord.”
“Christina — she sang with those young girls, I know she is singing with us tonight,” Kicanas said.
Muñoz’s niece, Megan Huerta, a 20-year-old religious instructor at the parish, said the incident became very real to her on Sunday, when her fifth-grade students had to pass by the Safeway, where the shootings occurred, to get to class.
“We wrote letters to Christina’s family,” she said. “We are here tonight to celebrate and honor her.”
Christina’s mother, Roxanna Green, and family members of Roll were in attendance at the Mass. Ben Zimmerman, the brother of Gabe Zimmerman, one of the six killed, was also there.
Dozens of people also attended an interfaith service earlier in the evening at Catalina United Methodist Church, 2700 E. Speedway, to mourn, heal and pray for hope.
The service featured songs, prayers, scripture readings and words of encouragement from clergy representing different faiths.
The names of the dead were read, with a bell toll after each name.
Kicanas said the shootings presented an opportunity for people to put aside their differences.
“The beautiful thing about tragic moments is that they’ve called us together,” he said. “May this tragic moment lead us to reflect on how we can live together and stand up to senseless violence.”
Deane Ford, who attended the service, said Giffords has helped her hold onto her belief in government.
“I think for some, you can unite people through hate and you can also unite people through love,” Ford said. “Giffords wants to unite people through love. This tragedy is the result of those who want to unite through hate.”
Reporter Jamar Younger contributed to this story. Contact reporter Tom Beal at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4158.