Celeste and James, who preferred to withhold their last names, pray for Paris attack victims during a vigil at Marylhurst University. Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel
Celeste and James, who preferred to withhold their last names, pray for Paris attack victims during a vigil at Marylhurst University. Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel
Michelle Wodtli, music minister at St. Ignatius Parish in Southeast Portland, has been using music to begin healing the suffering of tragedy.

Two days after a gunman killed students at St. Joseph Parish in Roseburg last October, Wodtli organized an evening vigil with prayers, readings, sacred music and secular songs like Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven.”

Those who attended wept deeply and said it helped them begin to deal with anger and anguish.

After the November attacks in Paris, Wodtli convened a vigil at Marylhurst University. People of all ages sat in darkness, holding candles and listening to music and readings from scripture and other sources.

Readings came from Isaiah, the Koran, the psalms, the Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh and the Gospel of John. One peace prayer implored the help of Mary, the Mother of God.

The dozen people in attendance voiced their prayer, including this: “For all those who responded and lent help. For protection of the people who saw things that no one should see.”

On the program was a photograph of the Eiffel Tower.

Wodtli, a doctoral student at San Francisco Theological Seminary, designs the vigils not just for believers, but as tools of evangelization that might comfort and attract people who are not necessarily church-goers.  

“We want to make sure as many people as possible can participate,” she says. “We want to reach people who won’t come to Mass but might come to a candlelight vigil. This is just growing.”

Her advisor at the school urged her to step outside the churchy world and create a venue to “meet the needs of the human soul.”

She has written 20 musical pieces to serve the purpose. She hopes parishes might offer a regular vigil to address pain, suffering and tragedy. The whole neighborhood would be invited, ideally.

And if there is a tragedy, a team could travel to the site to offer a vigil.  

“Our idea is to come alongside that community as friends and do a concert, prayer and rosary and do Mass music on Sunday,” she says. “It would be a weekend respite for people at the parish.”