‘We will come back from this’
I almost didn’t go to Guardian Angel Cathedral on the Las Vegas Strip for the prayer vigil scheduled Monday evening, nearly a day after a lone gunman on the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay opened fire on the audience of a country music concert at the Route 91 Harvest Festival, killing 59 people and injuring more than 500. I had heard about the vigil from the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada and, talking it over with others in the newsroom, we thought there might be a liberal political bent to it (“It’ll be all about gun control,” one KNPR producer worried). But in the end, we decided I could ignore the politics and focus on talking to locals affected by the massacre. So I went.
Indeed, the only elected officials I saw there — U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen, Congressman Ruben Kihuen and Congresswoman Dina Titus, Nevada Assemblyman Nelson Araujo and Assemblywoman Heidi Swank — were Democrats. Clark County Commissioners Chris Giunchigliani and Steve Sisolak, who will run against each other in a primary to be the Democratic party’s next candidate for Nevada Governor, were the only pols to give remarks during the service.
Yet there was nothing political about the vigil at all. (I should note that, apart from Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, the elected officials that appeared with Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Sheriff Joseph Lombardo at his 1 p.m. press conference today were also all Democrats, and that event was pointedly apolitical.) On the contrary, the gathering was defined by the bittersweet unity that is unique to natural disasters, mass shootings, and other communal tragedies. In our collective sadness, shock, and horror, humans shine. Like private boat owners trekking to Houston to help rescue stranded victims of Hurricane Harvey last month, Las Vegans used their personal vehicles — and private ambulance companies showed up en masse — to transport shooting victims to hospitals on Sunday. No decent person asks, when donating food for the hungry or blood for the dying, that it be earmarked for Democrat or Republican only.
“We have to turn from a divisive world to a loving one, where we embrace each other,” said Bishop Joseph A. Pepe of the Las Vegas Diocese. “We join across religions, races, genders to stand together.”
His message was embodied by the clergy holding the vigil. It opened with a litany of robed men (and a few women) lining up to ring a gong three times each, solemnly. Among those speaking, reading Scripture, and leading prayers were a Jewish rabbi, Methodist Episcopal pastor, Muslim imam, and nondenominational reverend.
“We have no idea when, where, or how our time will end,” Imam Hanafi Shakur, of Masjid As-Sabur mosque said. “So, let us spend the time we have left not divided by race, gender, religion, or economics.”
Echoing the other speakers, Shakur added his hope that the difference-transcending moment would last: “Let us be unified every day … to help make all our lives better.” The vigil closed with the clergy, all joined on stage, leading the hymn, “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” Congregants stood and reached across aisles, literally, to join hands as they sang.
Streaming out of the cathedral in the cool fall dusk, people were flush with the hopeful message that their faith leaders had preached.
“It’s hard to see this (massacre) happening,” said Teresa Perea, a Mexican immigrant who has attended mass at the Guardian Angel for 20 years, and whose husband is a bartender at Mandalay Bay (he was off work the night of the shooting). “In Las Vegas, you may not always feel like you belong to something. But today, we are a community. We are strong. We will come back from this.”