Attendees at vigil pray for shooting victims, healing in community

IMAGE: CNS photo/Patrick T. Fallon, Reuters

By R.W. Dellinger

BERNARDINO, Calif. (CNS) — Our Lady of the Rosary Cathedral was dark as men
and women of different faiths walked down the center aisle of the
mission-revival-style church.

names of the 14 victims of the Dec. 2 shooting at the Inland Regional Center in
San Bernardino were read by an unseen woman, with an equal number of 6-inch
white candles lit on a table before the altar. And the haunting high voice of a
soloist sang the civil rights theme “We Shall Overcome.”

than 400 gathered in the Diocese of San Bernardino’s mother church for an
evening vigil Dec. 7. They came to pray for the slaughtered and 21 injured in
what President Barack Obama has called a terrorist attack in this city, some 65
miles east of Los Angeles along Route 66. A place that still considers itself a
small town now confronting an unimaginable evil.

welcoming the interfaith congregation to his church, Bishop Gerald R. Barnes of
San Bernardino said he and his fellow religious leaders were there to “walk
with” the families and friends of the victims in their pain, anger, sorrow
and confusion.

know that we cannot go back to the way things were before this horrible tragedy
occurred,” he said in English and Spanish. “We can’t forget. We have
to be brave as we seek healing and strength.”

Barnes stressed that “we do not want our enemies to win over our hearts,
to terrify our future. We do not want our hearts to turn against any person,
any race, any religion. And so I invite you this evening to be open to the
Lord. Let your heart and your mind be open to God’s message for you, for our
community and our families. Be open to where our God, a God of mercy and love,
leads us.”

bishop has asked all parishes to conduct a special penitential rite for the
next two Sundays of Advent — Dec. 13 and 20 — in response to the violent
happenings in the San Bernardino Diocese.

the prayer vigil, Bishop Barnes said “amen” would be repeated many
times during the evening. “We will nod our heads and grieve with the words
that are shared. But what comes after the amen? What will we do in God’s name
and in prayer after we leave this church?” he asked. “Our ‘amen’ is
our willingness to have God lead us on to guide our vision and our actions.”

urged, “Let us find God calling us to be better neighbors, to be better at
loving each other, to be committed workers for justice and peace, to be strong
witnesses to God’s presence and God’s mercy in our home, our community and the
world. Let our ‘amen’ be a call to merciful discipleship in the name of our
Lord. Amen.”

missing a beat, “Amen,” came back from the pews.

Rev. Norman Copeland said the service, which filled the cathedral, demonstrated
the bedrock of love for those who suddenly had their lives ended at a holiday
party at the city’s service center. They ranged in age from 26-year-old Aurora
Godov from San Jacinto to Isaac Amanios, 60, of Fontana. But Rev. Copeland said
the truth was that everybody — not only in the cathedral, but across the
Inland Empire, as Riverside and San Bernardino counties are known — needed to
heal, which only love could do.

breaks us,” he said. “The only cure we have that will allow our
spirit and our souls and our minds to be able to move forward is to understand
the principles of love. So I suggest to you, learn how to love — even in times
like this.”

Aslam Abdullah, representing the community’s Muslim community, said the killers
— Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, 29 — wanted people
from different faiths, like those present, to hate each other, to be disunited.
But they failed because “we substitute love … we are united.”

human life is precious,” Imam Abdullah said in a rising voice. “And
we should take care to defend that human life, even if we have to give our own
life for somebody. We believe that. We believe that each one of us has a right
to live the way God wants us to live. We believe that life must be protected.
And as people belonging to different religions, we hold that. Life is precious.”

Hillel Cohn from Congregation Emanu El in Redlands asked all public officials
to come forward in front of the altar. He then led them and members of the
congregation in a “Prayer for Our Government.”

source of life, waken your spirit within all inhabitants of our land, and plant
among the people of different nationalities and faiths who dwell here, love and
brotherhood, peace and friendship,” the words went near the end. “Uproot
from our hearts and the hearts of all our brothers and sisters all hatred and
enmity, all jealousy and vying for supremacy. Fulfill the yearning of all the
people of land to speak and act proudly in its honor. Fulfill our mutual desire
to see our country become a true light to all nations.”

Jay Sherwood, also from Congregation Emanu El, noted how the prophet Isaiah
told the Jewish people that “violence will not be heard in your land.”
And he said the key was “heard,” because words usually come before
acts of violence.

we let somebody speak against those who are different from us or whose religion
is different from ours, we let the terrorists win,” said Rabbi Sherwood. “When
we speak of closing our borders, rather than letting families fleeing violence
to seek security, we let the terrorists win. When we allow our elected
officials to do nothing about gun violence and hatred, we let the terrorists
win. But we will overcome.”

the Rev. Sally Burton of the First Congregational United Church of Christ in
San Bernardino and president of the San Bernardino Clergy Association, got up
to speak. She outlined the three main goals of the interfaith groups — Inland
Congregations United for Change, Inland Empire Concerned African American
Churches, Diocese of San Bernardino, La Asociacion Musulmana Latina de America (Association
of Latino Muslims of America) and Congregations Organized for Prophetic
Engagement — who along with the clergy group sponsored the evening’s
interfaith service.

first aim was educational, to learn more about the beliefs and practices of
other faiths, she said. The second was social, to hold an annual festival to
develop relationships of peace in the Inland Empire as well as remember the
victims of violence.

the third was the most immediate, to take up a collection for the families of
those killed and injured, which a bevy of impromptu ushers proceeded to do.

been strengthened here tonight by our united effort and our diversity, by
prayer and the source of our love of our creator,” she pointed out.

one of us shares the image of God and the divine within us. We must shine that
light as a lantern on sometimes a very dark road. Each and every one of us is
needed for this calling. Go from this vigil tonight to be seeds of peace. Do
not be afraid of what the evil people have done.

confidence,” said Rev. Burton, “that love will offer goodness as a
counterpoint to evil in the world.”

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is a staff writer at The Tidings, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

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