President Donald Trump supporters breach the U.S. Capitol in Washington Jan. 6, 2021, during a rally to contest the certification of the 2020 presidential election. (CNS photo/Ahmed Gaber, Reuters)
President Donald Trump supporters breach the U.S. Capitol in Washington Jan. 6, 2021, during a rally to contest the certification of the 2020 presidential election. (CNS photo/Ahmed Gaber, Reuters)

Saying violence can never be the answer, Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of the Diocese of Albany prayed for peace and for the healing of our divided nation in the wake of the violent breach of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

 

“The events and passions culminating in the chaos and violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6 have shaken many of us to the core. This is not who we are or want to be as a nation,” Bishop Scharfenberger said in a statement last week. “As we move forward, we pray for peace and a renewal of our commitment to our foundational principles and the rule of law. We are grateful to lawmakers and staff on both sides who returned to the chamber despite ongoing threats and carried out the work of their office with grace and without fear. 

 

“We will always have differences of opinions, but chaos and violence can never provide solutions. We will continue to pray for the healing of divisions in our nation and for the peaceful transfer of power on Jan. 20. We join together with the Prince of Peace, who overcomes the sin and evil of the world by pouring out his life in love for everyone, not by the sword of conquest and fear.”

 

The carnage that was wrought by extremists loyal to President Donald Trump, which included rampaging through the halls of Congress, left five people dead, including one U.S. Capitol police officer and four protesters, and has led to at least 70 arrests. The events, which initially stopped the Electoral College count, stunned the nation and the world and left many searching for answers and calling for prayers. It did not stop Congress, however, from confirming President-elect Joe Biden later in the morning on Jan. 7.

Pope Francis said he was "astonished" by the violent scenes in the U.S. Capitol, especially because the people of the United States are "so disciplined in democracy."

In an interview with Italy's Canale 5 that was broadcast Jan. 10, the pope said violence, must always be condemned, but it also is true that in even the most "mature" societies, there are violent minorities, "people taking a path against the community, against democracy, against the common good."

"But thank God this erupted and people could see it well. That way it can be remedied. ... No nation can brag about never having a case of violence -- it happens," he said. "We must understand it, so it is not repeated -- learn from history, right?"

On Sunday, the pope offered prayers for the people of the United States "shaken by the recent siege on Congress" and prayed for the five people who lost their lives "in those dramatic moments.”

Remarking on the events after reciting the Angelus prayer, the pope insisted that "violence is always self-destructive. Nothing is gained by violence and so much is lost."

The pope urged government leaders "and the entire population to maintain a high sense of responsibility in order to soothe tempers, promote national reconciliation and protect the democratic values rooted in American society."

And he prayed that "Mary Immaculate, patroness of the United States of America," would "help keep alive the culture of encounter, the culture of caring, as the way to build together the common good; and may she do so with all who live in that land."

In other local reaction, while recognizing the “alarming and frightening” scenes in Washington, D.C., Giovanni Virgiglio, superintendent of diocesan schools, wrote in a letter on Jan. 7 to school leaders, teachers and staff that “we have a unique opportunity to help our students understand the world around them, and provide guidance and support during troubling times.

"Failure — individual or societal — can let us down or lift us up. It can empower us to seize the teachable moment. Reflecting carefully and prayerfully on the causes leading up to, and the consequences following a letdown, can help us to grow and do better.”

Virgiglio noted that all adults must teach students “the importance of good moral character and of following the light of Christ. Goodwill toward all — not just those who agree with us — is a linchpin of success for any enlightened society” while recognizing “the power of prayer and turn to our Heavenly Father to bring peace to those with hardness in their hearts, showing students by our example that while a small minority of people may choose violence, the vast majority will choose love and kindness.”

Dennis Poust, interim executive director, for the New York State Catholic Conference, said he hoped the outrage of most Americans will lead to an “inflection point for our nation.” 

The violent storming of our Capitol on Jan. 6 rightly outraged Americans across the political spectrum. That such a thing could occur in our country, at the hands of fellow Americans, is almost more than most of us could bear,” Poust said. “My prayer is that this is an inflection point for our nation, and I think the Congress and the Vice President helped that process tremendously by returning to session that very evening and, in a mostly unified way, condemning the violence, leveling with the American people about the results of the election, and certifying those results as we have done for more than two centuries.”

 

Poust added that after those responsible for the events are held accountable, we must all remember that “we are one nation, under God, indivisible.”

“The first priority, no question, is for those responsible to be held to account. This was criminal behavior resulting in death and destruction, and weakening our democracy. Going forward after that, we need a renewed respect for the ideals of our nation, and we must heed the U.S. Bishops’ call for civility in our political discourse,” Poust said. “For years, we’ve seen a coarsening of our culture, fueled by social media, talk radio and cable TV. Millions of Americans have been conditioned to see our fellow citizens as enemies, the press as enemies, politicians who disagree with us on policy as enemies. 

“We’ve turned our backs on the Gospel and made political figures into false idols. It’s time we remember we are one nation, under God, indivisible. Calls for unity can sound trite after such a national outrage, but the truth is there is no other way out of the mess we are in.”