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Supporters of President Donald Trump gathered in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington Jan. 6. During the day, some people breached the security and entered the Capitol building, forcing a temporary halt to Congress' count of electoral votes. One woman was shot and killed and three other people died of "medical emergencies."
Supporters of President Donald Trump gathered in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington Jan. 6. During the day, some people breached the security and entered the Capitol building, forcing a temporary halt to Congress' count of electoral votes. One woman was shot and killed and three other people died of "medical emergencies."
Photo Credit: Stephanie Keith | Reuters

After chaos at U.S. Capitol, faith leaders call for peace

Supporters of Pres. Trump broke into the building, forcing a temporary halt to Congress’ count of electoral votes

WASHINGTON — Seeing the U.S. Capitol building being stormed by a rioting mob Jan. 6 brought a visceral reaction from Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, a Republican from Nebraska. Fortenberry, who is Catholic and often attends daily Mass at St. Peter’s Church on Capitol Hill, called the attack a “desecration.”

Supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump broke through windows and doors, overwhelmed Capitol Police lines and rampaged through the building, causing members of Congress and staff to flee to secure areas, as the mob proceeded to ransack congressional offices and wander into the abandoned Senate chamber. Congress temporarily halted the count of electoral votes, a process which was completed early in the morning Jan. 7.

A security officer gestured after supporters of President Donald Trump breached security defenses at the U.S. Capitol building in Washington Jan. 6. Faith leaders called for peace after a group entered the Capitol building.
Photo Credits: Mike Theiler | Reuters
“When I saw (TV images of) a fool in the chair of the presiding officer of the Senate, my visceral reaction was (this is) desecration,” Fortenberry said in a Jan. 8 interview with the Catholic Standard, newspaper and website of the Archdiocese of Washington.

The congressman, who has a master’s degree in public policy from Georgetown University and a master’s degree in theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, said, “The degradation of culture leads to these moments where violence can be pursued in the name of justice. That’s how twisted this is.”

When the crowd stormed the Capitol, Fortenberry was quarantined in his office because of COVID-19 exposure, although he was allowed to return for votes under safety precautions.

“It was jarring and surreal at the same time,” he said. “I could not imagine this could happen in the United States of America … To think somehow in the pursuit of justice and democracy, people would take over the Capitol. It’s not only jarring, but outrageous.”

Rep. Chris Smith was in his office in the Rayburn House Office Building, writing remarks to acknowledge the tally of the presidential election results when alarms sounded.

Smith, R- New Jersey, who is co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, emphasized the importance of dialogue when there is disagreement, saying in a statement: “The enactment of wise public policy to benefit all Americans requires robust dialogue and debate — and genuine respect for one another especially when there is fundamental disagreement. We must be committed to zero-tolerance toward violence in any form.”

Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a statement the evening of Jan. 6 saying he joined “people of good will in condemning the violence today at the United States Capitol.”

“This is not who we are as Americans,” he said, adding that he is praying for members of Congress, Capitol Hill staff members, police officers “and all those working to restore order and public safety.”

News reports also said explosive devices were found at the national offices for the Republican and Democratic parties. A Capitol Police officer died from injuries, and one person was shot. The woman who was shot died later, and police stated that three other people died from “medical emergencies.”

Much of the country, and the world, watched aghast at scenes coming out of the nation’s capital after Vice President Mike Pence said he had no authority to change the results of the election, affirming President-elect Joe Biden as the next commander-in-chief.

Pope Francis 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” when protesters stormed the Capitol Jan. 6.

Remarking on the events after reciting the Angelus prayer Jan. 10, the pope insisted that “violence is always self-destructive. Nothing is gained by violence and so much is lost.”

Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski of St. Louis issued a statement on social media Jan. 6. “I join my brother U.S. bishops in condemning the violence we witnessed today in our nation’s capital and condemning the events and rhetoric leading to the mob violence,” he wrote. “We are called to act for the greater good, seeking the way of peace, not violence, to foster true healing for our United States​. This nation has been a resilient beacon of democracy, under God, that peacefully and respectfully defends the rights of all our sisters and brothers. We will continue to do so by joining in an understanding of God’s love for each and every one of his children. I ask you to join me in prayer for peace and unity, and for the repose of the soul of the young woman who lost her life during today’s violence. Pray also for our lawmakers, that the Holy Spirit will guide them, and that all of their actions will be for the greater good of the people of the United States of America.”

Lawmakers, including the vice president, were rushed to safety after the angry mob broke into the building. Images on Twitter showed them breaking down doors and some asking the whereabouts of the vice president. With “Trump 2020” flags, they freely roamed the halls of the capitol as scared lawmakers crowded together to pray, some reported.

“It is my considered judgment that my oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not,” Pence wrote lawmakers in a letter just before a joint session of Congress to tally the Electoral College count, raising Trump’s ire.

Pence ended the letter with “so help me God.”

Hours earlier, Trump had publicly urged Pence via Twitter to refute congressional certification of the results, even though Biden won the popular as well as the electoral vote.

Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney told a reporter for The New York Times who was seeking safety along with lawmakers: “This is what the president has caused today, this insurrection.”

Many criticized those who had taken part in the chaos while also carrying “Jesus saves” flags mixed in with Trump paraphernalia.

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Rhode Island said he would be celebrating Mass “for our troubled nation.”

“In this holy season, as we continue to observe the birth of the Christ Child, may peace, harmony, unity and fraternity be restored in our country. May God bless and guide America!,” he wrote.

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori released a statement later in the day saying that “our hearts are heavy as we witness the shocking and unlawful protests occurring in our nation’s capital.”

“We fervently pray for peace and for God’s protection over our country, our lawmakers, and all those in harm’s way this terrible day. May peace-loving Americans of good will throughout the United States come together to engender peace, reconciliation and healing in our wounded and broken nation, which remains and must always be one, under God,” he said.

Rhina Guidos, Kurt Jensen, Carol Zimmermann and Mark Zimmermann contributed to this report.

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