Christians leaders have responded with strong words to Sunday's shooting at the First Baptist Church in the Texas community of Sutherland Springs in which 26 people were killed and another 20 injured when a gunman opened fire during a worship service.

Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines said "[w]e are praying for the families of those who were killed as well as those who were wounded". "We pray that God will lay His merciful hand of healing on all who have suffered and have been injured. May God bring healing and hope to the church and the city. May God bless all the police officers serving in that area. And may God prevent further incidents like this throughout our nation in the days to come. Our hearts and prayers are with you.” 

Cardinal Daniel N DiNardo, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and leader of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston in Texas, described the shooting as an "incomprehensibly tragic event" which joins an "ever-growing list of mass shootings, some of which were also at Churches while people were worshipping and at prayer".

"We must come to the firm determination that there is a fundamental problem in our society," he said."A Culture of Life cannot tolerate, and must prevent, senseless gun violence in all its forms. May the Lord, who Himself is Peace, send us His Spirit of charity and nonviolence to nurture His peace among us all.”

Rev Robert Schenck, president of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute in Washington, DC, and subject of The Armor of Light documentary, said the US must call on "our most experienced, knowledgeable, and strategic professionals to weigh in with their wisdom in how to deny murderous people the means for committing atrocities like this".

"The killer in this instance could have done far more damage much more easily by throwing a hand grenade into the sanctuary, but he didn’t because he can’t get a hand grenade. The question we must answer is why and how people bent on death and destruction can carry out their dastardly deeds so easily? Just as we frustrate our enemies on the battle field by interrupting their supply chains, let’s do the same with psychopathic killers.”

Meanwhile, Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, called for care for those who have lost loved ones and prayer for the first responders, adding that at the same time there must be questions asked about the root causes of such violence.

 “As weapons become ever more devastating and accessible, and extremist rhetoric augments into extremist action, we must condemn the disregard for human life," he said in a statement.

“Such violence is so painful to confront when it is senselessly focused on people who are worshipping in a place they feel safe to gather as a community to express their faith. How do we cope and respond? We cannot necessarily ease someone’s pain but we can walk beside them, whether we are their neighbor across the street or we are thousands of miles away.”

Authorities have named 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley, a former US Air Force airman, as the man who opened fire on the church in Sutherland Springs shortly after 11am on Sunday morning, killing 26 people, ranging in age from 18 months to 77-years-old, and injuring about 20 more. Kelley himself died from what appeared to be a self-inflicted wound after he was chased by armed bystanders and crashed his vehicle.

Authorities have reportedly concluded that the deadliest mass shooting in modern Texan history was not motivated by race or religion or connected with terrorism but appeared to stem from a domestic situation.

The town of Sutherland Springs, located about 50 kilometres south-east of San Antonio, only has a population of about 400 people.

- with ADELLE M BANKS, RNS