Finding strength through prayer

When Tyler Nadeau heard multiple gunshots ring out not far from his home in Lewiston on the evening of October 25, his immediate thought was to pray.

“It is always the Hail Mary,” he says. “I always say fall back on the classics, the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be. If you don’t know what to say, you can’t go wrong with those. They’re going to know what is in your heart.”

When Candy Cloutier saw two state troopers speed past her as she was driving home that night, she also paused to pray.

“When I see emergency vehicles, whether it’s an ambulance, fire truck, or police, I say a quick prayer that God will help them with whomever is in need of their services and that He will be with the person who needs them and will be with the emergency people who will be providing the care,” she says. “Sometimes, there is nothing you can do but pray.”

Cloutier, who serves as an extraordinary ministry of holy Communion at Prince of Peace Parish in Lewiston, could not have realized, as she pulled over to let the state troopers pass, that those for whom she was praying included people she knew: Ronald Morin, who is her cousin’s husband, and William Brackett, her neighbors’ son. They were among the 18 killed people killed in the shootings at Just-In-Time Recreation and Schemengees Bar & Grille.

Cloutier remembers Morin for his gregarious personality and for always being the first one to send her birthday greetings.

“His sense of humor was such that he had you laughing and crying in one conversation. You would laugh so hard that you would start crying,” she says.

The tears now are not ones of merriment but of sorrow for the lives lost and for family members and a community left to grieve.

“Sometimes, I just can’t find the right words to describe the pain. When something as tragic as this happens, there are no words,” says Cloutier.

“I just feel horrible. This is our community,” says Theresa Page of Durham, a member of Prince of Peace Parish. “It just affects the whole community, and my heart breaks for the families. Everyone is affected somehow.”

Realizing the pain, confusion, and grief people were experiencing, Father Daniel Greenleaf, pastor of Prince of Peace Parish, says his immediate reaction was, “I have to take care of my parishioners.”

It is why, on the morning after the shootings, when a stay-at-home order was still in place because the suspected shooter had not yet been found, he invited parishioners to attend Mass via livestream, why they were invited to join him and fellow priests online for evening prayer, and why, as soon as it was possible to do so, he opened the churches of the parish to the people.

“I knew that people would be scared, that people would be alone and feel lonely, that people would feel hurt, and that other people would want to reach out to them, so I needed to provide a space to do that. They wanted to pray. They wanted to find a place of peace in the midst of all of this death around them,” he says,

Father Greenleaf says his message to them in those first days after the shootings was to remind them of something they already knew, that God is with them.

“The one thing that I tried to share is that even if it is dark, there are always rays of light,” he says. “It’s never so dark that you can’t find the rays of light or, in a similar way, the places where God is and where there are angels whom God has sent to help us carry this. God has not abandoned us. It was acknowledging the pain and the hurt that people were feeling, the fear they were feeling, not to pretend that it didn't exist but to say this is not the end of the story. There is more to come. We can walk through this storm.”

It was a message also conveyed by Bishop Robert Deeley, who traveled to Lewiston two days after the shootings to be with the people there.

“The psalms speak of God’s care for us, which is the word we need to hear in a moment of difficulty, in a moment of stress. Precisely what we need is prayer and faith and trust in God,” the bishop said. “We may not be able to explain why bad things happen in this life, but what we do know is that His love is eternal and that we will never be lost, that God is always with us. He welcomes us to life and to eternal life.”

Parishioners say it is their faith and trust in Christ from which they have drawn strength during this time of trial.

“I just need to be near Jesus through this whole thing. I just need to feel His presence more than ever. Just like everybody else in this community, we need to know there is a God who really loves His people,” says Brenda Masse, a parishioner from Lewiston. “God works. He provides you with what you need. My eyes have to stay focused on Him. As tragic as this was, we know that the battle has been won. The battle has been won, and the Lord is taking care of us.”

“My faith is who I am, and it carries me through, and it has carried me through a lot of difficult times in my life,” says Janet Viere of Auburn, a Prince of Peace parishioner.

“Even though I grieve, and I am mourning for my family and for all of those who have lost loved ones in this tragedy, I know that God is grieving with me. He has not left our side. I know that He is there. I can always count on the fact that I can talk to God,” says Cloutier. “I just turn to Him in prayer. I know that when I cry, He cries. So, prayer has been the best thing for me.”

“Prayer is that constant reminder that you are not alone and to not be afraid,” says Nadeau, who serves as director of evangelization and catechesis for Prince of Prince Parish. “If we don’t pray, we lose track of that, and we get isolated, and the fear and the anxiety become overwhelming. It’s like drowning.”

That belief in the importance of prayer, both for themselves and for others, is what led the faithful to gather for a prayer vigil held at Holy Family Church in Lewiston on the Sunday following the shootings. With the Blessed Sacrament exposed on the altar, people prayed in silence and together, reciting the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet, listening to readings and a reflection, and joining in hymns.

“In our grief, we come here to this mountain so that He might teach us, so that He might comfort us, that He might give us peace,” Father Elaiyaraja Thaniyel, HGN, parochial vicar of Prince of Peace Parish, told those gathered. “We pray for the dead because we love them and because love is valuable. The Church was held together by love, the bond uniting the members of the Church. The bond of love implies some form of sharing, some form of communication, and since love never ends but survives even death, then the living may still share in a communion of love with the dead. Praying and doing good works on behalf of the dead is simply the way the Church of the living loves the Church of the faithful departed.”

Parishioners like Doris Belanger, who read the names of the deceased during the prayer vigil, say they believe their prayers and presence can make a difference, both to those who died and those in their community who are grieving.

“We can’t fix what happened, but we can share our faith. We can pray for people. The best thing that we can give them is prayer and faith. I’m not sure everyone who came here today was of our faith, but I have to believe that they were blessed by their presence here today. Maybe it will change their life, and maybe it will help them in their grief and help them through this really difficult time,” says Belanger. “I think the more opportunities we can give people to feel God’s love and feel forgiveness and acceptance, the better chances of them healing.”

“We have to continue to point to God. In all of this, we have to point out that there is a message of hope, that death is not the end,” says Nadeau. “It’s our duty to pray. We have to recognize that these bodies are going to pass away, but our souls are designed to return to God, and amid that pain and trial, we have to hold on to the fact that there is something bigger than ourselves here. God created us to return home. He wants us there.”

Despite the loss of 18 lives and the wounding of 13 others, these parishioners say they know that God was still present when the shootings took place.

“God was in the bowling alley. God was in Schemengees. God was in those places because those people gave their lives to save others, and that’s what God did with Jesus, His son. He gave Him for us so that we could live,” said Viere. “That is where the love of Christ is in all of this.”

“They were all heroes. God used each one of them to save other people.  I have to believe that there is a connection between them and God,” says Belanger. “They weren’t forced into trying to help others. They did this willingly.”

“When evil is present, good rushes in and supersedes it,” says Father Greenleaf. “God will not be outdone in anything, and even if evil is present, God will not be outdone by evil. He will always have more good than evil present. It will always be that way.”

That good could be seen in the work of the first responders, the healthcare workers, and the hospital chaplains, who sought to care for both the living and the dead.

“I could see the presence of God with all the medical staff, the police officers, and firefighters because, although it was chaotic and no one was prepared for such a tragedy, you saw how many helping hands came together to give all the support they could to the victims and the families,” saysFather Arockiasamy Santhiyagu, HGN, a chaplain at Central Maine Medical Center and St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center, both in Lewiston.

Father Santhiyagu says he spent time praying beside those who died before seeking to comfort struggling family members.

“It was just the ministry of my presence,” he says. “I didn’t know what religion they were, but you stay with them, and you talk with them, and you listen to them.”

The presence of good could also be seen in the many who offered their support in the days and weeks that followed the shootings.

“We have had such an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and I am so grateful to be a witness to it,” says Nadeau. “I’m looking around at the community coming together, at the people reuniting. It’s terrible that it took such an awful tragedy, but there has been such an outpouring of love.”

Nadeau says people throughout the Lewiston-Auburn communities, the state of Maine, and across the nation and the world have sought to help.

“We are truly the universal Church. Parishes across the world have reached out to us, from the Heralds of Good News community in India to parishes in Africa and China,” he says. “It is incredible to me.”

Pope Francis was among those who sent words of condolence and support. During a One Lewiston community vigil held on the evening of Sunday, October 29, Bishop Deeley shared a message from the Holy Father in which he said he “was deeply saddened to learn of the terrible loss of life resulting from the mass shooting” and expressed “his spiritual closeness to all of those suffering from this unspeakable tragedy.”

That vigil was attended by thousands who filled every pew of the Basilica of Ss. Peter & Paul in Lewiston and the streets surrounding it.

“It didn’t matter what your religion was; everyone came together. To see that in my lifetime is something that I will live with forever in my heart,” says Cloutier.

The Catholic faithful of Lewiston say they hope the bonds formed through this tragedy will carry forth into the future. They also hope that it may open a door to help others discover God’s mercy and love or to return to Him.

“My prayer is that those who have been affected in any way, shape, or form will see the beauty of Jesus Christ and hopefully come back, especially those who have been baptized in the Catholic faith,” says Rick Jensen, a parishioner from Lewiston. “When they can see that the community is there to support them through the Lord Jesus Christ working through us, it is the greatest blessing one could have.”

“We can’t fix it, but we can share our faith,” says Belanger. “I’m not going to preach to anybody, but I can preach through my own actions. I can show them love and forgiveness and mercy and, hopefully, make a difference.”

A Franciscan sister prays before the photos of the Lewiston shooting victims.
Women hugging
Prayer service at Holy Family Church in Lewiston
Women hugging
Father Raja Thaniyel, HGN
Woman praying
Rick Jensen shares a reading
Doris Belanger reads the names of the victims.
Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist