Members of the community walk to the front of the sanctuary at First United Methodist Church of Orlando to announce the 49 victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting one by one during an InterFaith service Tuesday night in Orlando, Fla. (Luke Franke/Staff)
ORLANDO — Two strangers bowed their heads in prayer.
Jeanette Holloway, 36, and Matt Gilles, 28, met for the first time Tuesday evening near the flowers, signs and candles left in downtown Orlando to honor the 49 people killed and 53 injured last weekend at Pulse, a LGBT nightclub in the city.
Eyes closed, Holloway and Gilles asked that the people of Orlando heal from the mass shooting, one of the worst in American history.
“Love is love,” said Gilles. “No matter who it’s from.”
Rev. Tom McCloskey, Pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Orlando, speaks to members of the InterFaith Council of Central Florida minutes prior to the beginning of an InterFaith service held at the church to address the Pulse shooting Tuesday night in Orlando, Fla. (Luke Franke/Staff)
Since the killings at Pulse, the hashtag “Pray for Orlando” has become a social media trend. Vigils and prayer services at churches across the city have given people who live in Orlando, and surrounding communities, spaces to meet in person and mourn.
As Holloway and Gilles prayed outside under the twilight sky, more than 200 others gathered across the street from the memorial, for an interfaith service at First United Methodist Church.
There, under the same roof, religious leaders shared words of peace from Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism and other faiths.
Gurpreet Singh, a member of the Sikhs Society of Central Florida, holds his cousin Suhavi Saini, 4, as she points out the window of the First United Methodist Church of Orlando minutes prior to the start of the InterFaith service held at the church Tuesday night in Orlando, Fla. (Luke Franke/Staff)
Through unity, Orlando will overcome the darkness of tragedy, said Louis Canter, of the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans. No one religion should be blamed or targeted for retribution, he said.
“We are sharing a common home,” Canter said. “Common home means we are all in this together, and we are all looking for solutions rather than searching for problems.”
Churches are “a safe space” and “a sanctuary,” just like Pulse had been to so many, said Hannah Willard of Equality Florida, a statewide organization that advocates for LGBT rights.
The shooting is a reminder that hate — homophobia, Islamophobia, sexism — must be defeated by promoting empathy and respect, she said.
Portraits of the 49 victims of the Pulse shooting are posted one by one at the front of the sanctuary in the First United Methodist Church of Orlando during an InterFaith service to address the Pulse shooting Tuesday night in Orlando, Fla. (Luke Franke/Staff)
“We are committed to uprooting hatred anywhere it exists,” Willard said. “That is how we build a better Florida. A safer Florida.”
Brittnee Hopkins, 26, of Clermont, Florida, said she was vacationing on Sanibel Island when she and her husband, who was raised in Orlando, found out about the tragedy.
“We just got thrown right into the heartache,” Hopkins said.
They came to the interfaith service Tuesday night to find comfort and to defy the shooter, she said.
Orlando will be strong, Hopkins said.
“Eventually, this is just going to be a scar,” she said. “This is not going to change who we are as a city.”