Washington D.C., Mar 22, 2021 / 04:30 pm (CNA).- The U.S. bishops’ conference denounced racism and violence following last week’s shootings in Atlanta that killed six Asian women.

“I am deeply saddened to hear of another mass shooting that has tragically taken the lives of eight people and has renewed concerns about a rise in hostility against individuals of Asian descent,” stated Bishop Oscar Solis of Salt Lake City on Monday.

Solis chairs the U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB) Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Island Affairs, and is the first Filipino-born bishop in the United States.

“As bishops, we decry any kind of hatred and violence, particularly based on race, ethnicity, or sex,” Solis stated. “We pray for the families and friends of those who were lost, and for their communities, who may feel unsafe and vulnerable at this time.”

On March 16, a gunman killed eight people – including six Asian women – and injured one person during a series of shootings at three massage parlors in the Atlanta area. The shooter, Robert Aaron Long, 21, had frequented the parlors and had previously been in a rehabilitation program for sex addiction.

The FBI director last week said he did not believe race was a motivating factor in the shootings, and Long has yet to be charged with a hate crime. However, with women of Asian descent making up three-quarters of the shooting victims, the killings sparked conversations about anti-Asian discrimination in the United States – particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bishop Solis noted that the shooting “prompted national dialogue on addressing anti-Asian bias that has taken the form of numerous other acts of physical violence, verbal attacks and destruction of property against those of Asian descent over the last year that have left communities across the country traumatized.”

“I echo Archbishop Gregory Hartmayer’s words that ‘[w]e must support all victims of violence and stand in solidarity with those who are vulnerable in our communities,’” said Solis, referencing a March 17 statement by the Atlanta Archbishop following the shootings.

For Catholics, Lent must be a season of “conversion” to charity, he added.

“More broadly, we must always stress that every human being is a brother or sister in Christ, created in the image and likeness of a loving God,” said Solis, adding that “particularly during this season of Lent, let us remember God’s love and mercy for each one of us and renew the call for conversion of heart, that we may be more united to God’s love and share it with all of our neighbors.”

At the bishops’ annual fall meeting in November – held remotely in 2020 due to the pandemic – Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland warned that Asian-Americans in his archdiocese were being scapegoated for the coronavirus pandemic.

Long has been charged with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault. Prosecutors have said that “nothing is off the table” and that additional charges, including hate crimes, may be filed.

Georgia allows for the death penalty, but it is presently unknown if the state will seek that punishment for Long.

Read More: CNA US News