Orlando, Fla. — 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' families.
"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.
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Close 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 circle."
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.