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By Marni Walsh
History was made on February 5 when people of diverse beliefs gathered at Trinity United Church in Shelburne to show solidarity with their “brothers and sisters” of Muslim faith who had suffered horrific violence at the hands of a fellow Canadian only days before.
The thematic message from leaders of all faiths at the vigil was “we are all one – we are all sons and daughters of Adam – we all came from clay.”
Two contemplative services, each with 100-200 in attendance, were held at Trinity on Sunday, just one week from the day when six Canadians were murdered and five injured in a shocking shooting at Centre Culture Islamique de Québec during evening prayers.
Led by Rev. Candice Bist, the interim Minister for the Shelburne and Primrose United Church Charge, the vigil included two Imams from Mosques in Brampton who travelled through wintry weather to share their reflections.
Many members of their community accompanied them, joining in prayer alongside Shelburne residents contemplating all that had been lost – what had been found – and a way forward for their country.
Rev. Bist invited the crowd “to stand in solidarity with our Muslim neighbours, to say that we hold firmly in the belief that no matter what religion a person chooses to practice, or not, we know that the way forward is the way of compassion, solidarity with all people, and an understanding that each person on this earth is beloved and precious.”
Alexandre Bissonnette, a 27-year-old student from the Faculty of Social Sciences at Université Laval has been charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder for the Quebec shooting.
Bissonnette, reportedly yet another victim of bullying at school, had become isolated in recent weeks and had allegedly begun to make anti-feminist and anti-immigrant statements online.
Rev. Bist also asked the crowd to keep “Alexander in our minds and hearts, the young man who forgot his own tenderness, and lost his way so completely. We stand ready to open our eyes to the realities around us that allow hateful discourse to continue, young people to feel alienated, and communities to be shattered.”
Imam Subedar, an accomplished Islamic scholar, and leader of the new seminary in Brampton, and Sheikh Umar Farooq Turab spoke to the crowds at the vigils.
Students of the Mathabab Institute, both men spoke on diversity, which they said was “created so that we might learn from one another.”
They called the invitation to the vigil “an honour” for them and expressed sincere gratitude for “the bridges” that were being built between communities.
“Both Imam Suberdar and Sheikh Turab are clearly devoted to their Muslim faith and ardent supporters of tolerance with all people, and desirous that we work together as communities of faith,” said Rev. Bist.
It is her hope that “the evening helped everyone to gain further understanding of one another and to move towards the day when we understand ourselves completely to be brothers and sisters under the sun.”
Jeff Cottam of Mono, who attended the vigils said, “Listening to the Imam read to us with so much reverence about Mary and Jesus from the Koran in Arabic with immediate English translation was another of one of the many highlight of the evening.”
“Surely, members of the Christian persuasion drove home with a vastly new understanding of the teachings of Islam,” he said.
Two ministers joined Rev. Bist in prayers: Rev. LeeAnn McKenna director of Partera International, and Rev. Ann Harbridge from Rosemount United Church.
“What a powerful and historically momentous event,” said Rev. McKenna. “What a moving coming together for the first time of so many elements and people - a delight and a witness to a different day.”
Musical Director of Trinity United Church, Bruce Ley, led the “Soul Singers” choir, combined with pastoral charge choir members, to sing “I Shall Be Released” featuring Russell Jones, as well as “Lean on Me.”
Mr. Ley accompanied blues soloist Kim LeRiche in “A Change is Gonna Come” and soprano soloist Darcey Baker as she sang “Somewhere” from West Side Story.
Together the crowd sang “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”
From the Muslim community, a young cantor sang from the Qur'an, and Malaika Qureshi a student of Islamic studies spoke to the crowd saying, “I am hopeful …and will always cherish this moment of solidarity.”
At the request of the Free Press, Ed Crewson reflected on the evening, as possibly the only political figure at the event.
“We came together and expressed our unity in seeking peace and tolerance amongst all Canadians,” said Mr. Crewson. “It was a powerful message delivered and received by many different people in many different ways. I was so happy that the Shelburne-Primrose Pastoral Charge hosted this event and so pleased that so many people came with such a strong desire for co-operation and mutual support in the face of such tragedy.”
In between the services, there was time for people to light a candle, to listen to Bruce Ley playing piano, and to share tea with friends old and new.
“I was delighted to see the warm response from the Shelburne and area community,” said Rev. Bist, “but also the response of so many in the Muslim community who came both to hear their Imams speaking and to be part of a unique gathering. Such warmth and appreciation from the Muslim community – that made the evening for me, to see our sanctuary filled with people from different faiths enjoying themselves together, eating and laughing and talking together.”
Two hand crafted models in Trinity's sanctuary, a church and a mosque, made by new Shelburne resident, and once refugee, Khalil Huseyin Alos, stood side by side in the light of peace and love at the vigil – an image not to be forgotten.
Nor should we forget the words of Rev. Bist: “We stand with all people, regardless of religious tradition, gender orientation, colour of skin or creedal choices, who choose justice, kindness and a warm embrace as the way forward.”
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