It had seemed such a strange request.
As a Roman Catholic priest, being asked to give a blessing was not unusual.
But Rev. Clete Kiley had never been asked to bless such a place before, a room where one of our nation’s greatest nightmares took place, a floor permeated with the detritus of death.
“I felt surrounded by the mystery of evil,” said Kiley, who’d been asked to conduct a special church ritual on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas — a perch used to slaughter 59 people and wound more than 500 others.
A Chicago-based priest who works for the UNITEHERE union of hotel workers, Kiley told Sneed he had been asked to conduct the blessing last week on behalf of the traumatized union members.
“The FBI had already returned the floor to the hotel, but I remember wondering whether the spirit of evil was still there” said Kiley.
So Kiley, a native Chicagoan who works closely with Cardinal Blase Cupich, took a glass of water and a palm branch from a tree in the lobby of the Mandalay Bay hotel, and went to the 32nd floor to conduct a spiritual cleansing.
“It was eerie and still, the stage where the carnage began, where the shooter had holed himself up in a luxury suite, broken a window and used it as a perch to murder . . . people and shoot 500 more,” he said.
“The suite was at the end of a long hallway.
“As we opened the temporary door installed to seal the crime scene, I have to say it felt like I was pushed back — as if to keep me from entering.
“In my mind, I found myself saying to myself: ‘Oh no, you have to go.’ I instinctively began to pray in silence: ‘St. Michael, the Archangel, defend us in battle. Protect us against the wickedness and snares of the devil.’
“The hallway was littered with plaster from the walls where the barrage of bullets hit. Broken light fixtures were still where they fell on the hallway floor.
“There were holes in the walls where law enforcement removed bullets. There are a lot of holes. A lot of plaster on the floor. Then we came to the suite.
“As we entered, everything seemed very still. I immediately noticed the windows the shooter had broken out which were now covered. The place on the floor was marked where he died. But there was no sign of blood. All the carpeting had been removed.
“Then, I noticed the absolutely most stunning hotel room view you could imagine. I found there was no way to hold any of this together rationally. I kept saying this is just evil, raw evil.
“So I blessed the water according to the Roman ritual and then began to bless my companion and me, and then each and every corner of the suite.
“I blessed each bullet and room going back down the hall. I used the prayer for the blessing of a house and extended the prayer with an invocation to the Holy Spirit to descend in this place with light, joy, peace, hope and life.
“But as I reflect on this experience, I know this was one small step in the healing process for the people of Las Vegas.
“I know leaders of other faith traditions will be invited to pray here as well.
“But last week, the international union’s president was very concerned that ‘many members were still so upset from what they had experienced and seen in the casino and the concert area.’
“They had been on lockdown at the hotel all night and seen many of the slain bodies in the morning,” Kiley said.
“They had been given grief counseling, and words of encouragement — but many were hesitating to go back onto that floor, and I was asked if I could talk to them, especially the culinary workers.
“That’s why I was asked if I could bless this space,” he said.
“I guess you could call it a spiritual cleansing . . . sort of like blessing a new house before you move into it.”
Kiley also reflected on the Las Vegas spirit after the tragedy. “What is also clear is that in the kindness I saw workers extending to each other, in the compassion that is palpable all over Las Vegas, in the belief that hospitality will be stronger than fear — love is stronger than hate, life is stronger than death. Las Vegas and its people are strong. God’s grace is at work in some marvelous ways.”
Sneedlings . . .
I spy: Cubbie favorite David Ross at Southern Cut Barbecue in River North last week. . . . Chicago Bears rookie Tanner Gentry spotted celebrating Da Bears victory Sunday over dinner with his family at Harry Caray’s on Kinzie. . . . Cubs legend Kerry Wood watched the Astros beat the Yankees in Game 7 Saturday with his family at Harry Caray’s at Water Tower Place. . . . Today’s birthdays: Hillary Clinton, 70; Keith Urban, 50; and James Pickens Jr., 63.