Florida Catholic Charities workers console, support victims' families

By Christine Young and Teresa Peterson

Fla. (CNS) — Since the worst shooting attack in America occurred June 12,
Catholic Charities of Central Florida has been working in the background to
help victims, survivors and family members in whatever way possible.

Just hours after the shooting at a gay nightclub called the Pulse in Orlando that left 50 dead (including the gunman) and
more than 50 wounded, six bilingual staffers from Catholic Charities arrived at
the Hampton Inn in downtown Orlando, a meeting place for family and friends of
the victims.

Deacon David Gray of the Diocese of Orlando was coordinating a
pastoral response to the crisis and spread the word about the need for Spanish-speaking translators. The team of six didn’t think twice about going where they
were needed.

Maria Torres, one of the team
members, is an accredited representative for Comprehensive Refugee Services at
Catholic Charities of Central Florida. She was on the scene as families arrived
to find out if their loved ones had survived or had been killed after the gunman
opened fire at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Torres was on hand to help
translate for Spanish speakers and offer support and consolation to victims’

“It was something I needed
to do. It could have been me. I could have been the parent, sibling or friend
searching for their loved one. This realization gives me sensitivity for
others. When I received the call to help from our leaders at Catholic
Charities, I did not hesitate to go and help,” she said.

to 30 percent of Orlando’s population is Hispanic, and some 300,000 people of
Puerto Rican heritage live in the metropolitan area. Of those shot dead, more
than half of them were of Puerto Rican origin, four were Mexican citizens and
one man was from the Dominican Republic, according to law enforcement officials.

Torres saw the raw emotion
unfold among family and friends of the victims and felt called to be the face of compassion and show Christ’s mercy to
grieving family and friends.

“I was there to support,
console and gather in prayer with the victims’ families and friends waiting for
the news about their loved ones. I was there to help them hold onto hope,” Torres told the Florida Catholic, newspaper of the Orlando Diocese. “I was
there when officials began to announce the names of people going to the
hospital. There was screaming and crying as families and friends heard or
didn’t hear their loved one’s name.

“I helped console a man and his family while
they waited for news about his brother. Together we held hands and prayed in a

Catholic Charities continues to
fill a need in the community. Orange County officials have called on Catholic
Charities Immigration Services to help families of victims who are out of the country
to arrive in the U.S. for funerals. Their Family Stability program also is providing funds to help with funeral costs for family members.

“We are serving in the
background. We are the mortar that connects the bricks to help people put their
lives back together. You can’t rebuild without mortar. We are trying to help
each family with their individual needs,” said Gary Tester, executive
director, Catholic Charities of Central Florida.

Catholic Charities has established
a fund with $20,000 to help the victims and also are asking for donations to
help meet the needs. To donate, visit www.cflcc.org
and visit the donate page. In the comments box, indicate “support victims
of shooting.”

In the midst of tragedy, the Catholic
Charities office has received calls of support from people around the country. Supporters
from Maryland have knitted prayer shawls and are sending them to Orlando for
distribution to victims and loved ones so they know that many are praying for
them in their time of need.

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Young and Peterson write for the
Florida Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Orlando.

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