“Humanity is One Family”

An Interfaith Service of Prayer in Solidarity with the Islamic Community of Greater Vancouver February 3, 2017 at Christ Church Cathedral

In her February 1st,  2017 message to the people of the Diocese of New Westminster (which was also distributed to many in Vancouver’s media), Bishop Melissa Skelton wrote,

“The sounds of prayer at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre were shattered by gunfire at approximately 8pm, EST, on January 29, 2017. Six people were killed, 19 were injured (five critically injured), and dozens more were scarred by the chaos, suffering and death they experienced.  My belief is that when one of our houses of prayer is attacked, all of our houses of prayer are attacked-whether that house of prayer be a Christian church, a synagogue or a mosque. I invite all to join with me and religious leaders from BC’s lower mainland as we remember those who were killed in this horrific attack and pray that God’s peace rest upon this country and especially on all who gather for worship and prayer."

The Interfaith Prayer Service was at Christ Church Cathedral located in downtown Vancouver at the corner of Burrard and West Georgia and the meeting time was scheduled for Friday, February 3 at 3pm.

Much of the organization was done by the Very Reverend Dr. Peter Elliott, dean and rector of Christ Church Cathedral. Through mutual ministerial acquaintances he connected with Tim Kuepfer, immediate past Senior Minister at First Baptist. During an earlier time in ministry at a church in Richmond, Pastor Kuepfer had connected to members of that city’s Muslim community, specifically Mohammad Shujaath Ali, Iman of the BC Muslim Association. Shujaath Ali warmly welcomed Peter Elliott, and Tim Kuepfer to the Mosque in Richmond during the afternoon on Thursday, February 2 and drafted what would be titled An Interfaith Service of Prayer in Solidarity with the Islamic Community of Greater Vancouver.

The Greater Vancouver Area was hit with the first of a number of snowstorms on Friday, February 3, however all the religious leaders who had committed to attend were present with 100+ others in the sanctuary of Christ Church Cathedral.

In his opening remarks, Dean Peter Elliott said “our lives were irrevocably changed by the events of Sunday night (January 29, 2017). We stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters of Islam.” He acknowledged that the assembly was taking place on the lands of the Coast Salish peoples: Musqueam, Squamish and Tseil-Waututh First Nations. Dean Peter welcomed the religious leaders that had gathered:

  • Mohammad Shujaath Ali, Imam of the BC Muslim Association
  • Rabbi Dr. Laura Duhan Kaplan, VST
  • Rabbi Cary Brown, Temple Sholom
  • Father Pablo Santa Maria, Holy Rosary Roman Catholic Cathedral
  • The Reverend Cari Copeman-Hayes, President-Elect, BC Conference of the United Church of Canada
  • Rhys Scott, Pastor, Trinity Central Church
  • The Reverend (deacon) Alisdair Smith, Christ Church Cathedral
  • Ken Shigematsu, Senior Pastor, 10th Street Alliance
  • David Koop, Senior Pastor, Coastal Church
  • Tim Keupfer

Following the welcoming introductions he gave a brief outline of the prayer service and then Bishop Skelton offered this prayer:                                

In the midst of, clamor and confusion,                                

Grief and sadness, fear and frustration                                 

Silence……  

We wait upon you, O Holy One,                                

To feel your presence, to know your purpose,                                

To experience your power.                                                                        

Silence…...                                  

In quietness we wish                                

To listen to your voice, to think your thoughts,                                

To act your will.  

Be with your people as we gather this afternoon. Hear our prayers joined together from many traditions—hear our prayers for this country Canada and gather us together as people who seek peace and freedom.  Gather us together in our common commitment to the dignity of every human being and bless us as we pray together to you, the source of all life, now and forever.  Amen.

The bishop’s prayer was followed by readings from scripture. Rabbi Dr. Laura Duhan Kaplan, Reverend Alisdair Smith and Imam, Shujaath Ali each shared a reading. The Imam chanted the readings from the Quran in Arabic and then he translated the verses, sharing paraphrases of the texts in English:

  • “Humanity is one family for we all share in the same ancestry
  • From the creation of the 'First People', God is always watching
  • Human dignity is a God-given gift to all regardless of race.
  • All religious traditions acknowledge the sanctity of life. Anyone who takes a human life has murdered all mankind, anyone who saves a human life , saves all of mankind
  • A true servant of God walks on the earth in pure humility, these are the people who will receive their reward.”

The next section of the prayer service was an opportunity for six of the faith leaders to offer words about how the violence in Quebec affected them and their communities. The six who participated in this section were: Bishop Skelton, Rabbi Cary Brown, Rev. Cari Copeman-Hayes, Ken Shigematsu, Fr. Pablo Santa Maria (reading a message from Archbishop Michael Miller) and Shujaath Ali. Bishop Skelton began by saying that this violent event has “brought our gaze back to Canada. We have our own challenges to face and that is to connect with those who are unconnected…we want to be a place and a people that are not content with just tolerance and working for diversity but find joy in these pursuits.” She also said that horrific, violent acts like these bring us to prayer and bring us to God, producing “a deeper attachment, a desire to be together…a call for togetherness is a call to find out more about each other…differences are to celebrate.”

Rabbi Cary Brown said that she did not realize the existence of parallel messages that are in the Quran, specifically the verses that Shujaath Ali translated. She was “heartened” by the invitation she had received to gather in “this beautiful tapestry of faith communities.” She went on to say, "For Judaism, the imperative is to carry on, the quest for Peace, the quest for the Sacred." Speaking to Muslims she said, "Canada is NOT Canada without you."

The Reverend Cari Copeman-Hayes made references to paraphrases of the Beatitudes, and emphasized that we “focus on faith and not fear.” And that “words are not enough…now is the time for words to come to flesh.” Rev. Copeman-Hayes quoted from the recent letter circulated by the Right Reverend Jordan Cantwell, 42nd Moderator of the United Church of Canada. In this pastoral letter she had written:

“In love we reach out to you, our sisters and brothers, our fellow Canadians, to offer support and comfort. We open our hearts to you as we extend the hand of solidarity. We commit to redoubling our efforts to seek peace and justice for all peoples within and beyond Canada. We will work side by side with our neighbours of every faith and of no faith to heal the brokenness that fractures our communities and forge bonds of friendship and cooperation.

You are not alone. As people of faith across this country hold prayer vigils for the victims of the shooting and their families, know that you are embraced by the arms of love.”

Rev. Copeman-Hayes asserted that “our relationships matter, our humility, compassion and curiosity will carry us…it will be less of us and more of God...”

In his reflection, Ken Shigematsu said, "we live in a world where people love foreign things more than foreigners...” He then mentioned the Greek word philoxenia which is a combination of philos meaning friend and xenos meaning stranger. Philoxenia is displaying warmth and friendliness to strangers; the readiness to share hospitality, the desire to welcome the stranger into one’s home…Ken said, “one of the true signs that someone is animated by the love of God is their love of strangers...we share a common father in Abraham and we share a Creator. We are all brothers and sisters and we mourn the loss of these 6, our brothers, fathers, uncles, sons, grandfathers in Quebec City."

The Reverend Fr. Pablo Santa Maria, read the pastoral letter from the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Vancouver, J. Michael Miller, CSB:

“I am shocked and deeply saddened at the news of the deadly attack at a Quebec City mosque Sunday, and I send my sincere condolences to members of the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec, and to Canada’s entire Muslim community.

With Muslims, Catholics revere the faith of Abraham, and with Muslims, we call in prayer on the one, merciful God, asking for comfort and peace at this tragic time.

Catholics of the Archdiocese of Vancouver join with people of good will across Canada and around the world in denouncing this bloodshed on innocent people gathered in worship at a house of prayer. The freedom to worship in peace is fundamental to the Canadian way of life.

I echo the words of Pope Francis, who in response to this attack offered his prayers for the victims and underlined the importance of Christians and Muslims remaining united in prayer.

Be assured that we will continue to reach out in solidarity to the Muslim community, united in prayer with our Muslim brothers and sisters for the victims of this attack.”

The sixth leader to speak was Mohammad Shujaath Ali. He began by saying that he was thankful for the opportunity to share his own reflection as a member of the Muslim community. He said, “human life is sacred…so are religious sanctuaries, this act has violated both…this kind of killing is the worst kind of killing.”

He said that “Islam is about openness” but often followers of Islam face bigotry. He followed up on these thoughts saying, “we live in a global world which is a global village. Technology has literally shrunk the world,” for the Imam this almost instantaneous exchange of information taints our perceptions of each other and we lose our shared humanity.

He continued, saying that of all the regions of Canada whether it is true or not Quebec is more commonly known for religious bigotry but he stressed that “we are not immune from that here…at our mosque and at our neighbouring mosques there have been attacks,” both physical attacks to individuals and vandalism of property. “Our community is not immune…we need to all stand in solidarity and build alliances, not walls to separate us.”

When the six reflections were completed Tim Kuepfer came to the ambo and thanked those in attendance for their presence and listed a number of vigils scheduled in the Vancouver area during the days to follow. He initiated the Act of Remembrance, the lighting of candles to remember the six who had been murdered:

  • Azzeddine Soufiane
  • Khaled Belkacemi
  • Aboubaker Thabti
  • Mamadou Tanou Barry
  • Ibrahima Barry
  • Abdelkrim Hassane

Bishop Melissa Skelton, Rabbi Cary Brown, Rev. Cari Copeman-Hayes, Pastor Ken Shigematus, Fr. Pablo Santa Maria and Pastor Rhys Scott participated in the Act of Remembrance.

When the last of the six candles was lit, there was a time of silence and then closing prayers led by Rabbi Dr. Duhan Kaplan with Rabbi Brown and Pastor David Koop. At the conclusion of the prayers the religious leaders walked in silence out of the sanctuary down the centre aisle and down to the Cathedral’s hall to share some refreshments and some additional time together.

IMAGES

  • Mohammad Shujaath Ali, Iman of the BC Muslim Association
  • The Reverend Cari Copeman-Hayes
  • Bishop Skelton lights the first candle for Azzeddine Soufiane
  • Fr. Pablo Santa Maria lights the fifth candle for Mamadou Tanou Barry
  • Tim Keupfer and Rhys Scott prior to lighting the sixth candle for Abdelkrim Hassane.

Please click the link to access the Facebook album with more photos and captions on Anglican Conversation, the Facebook page of the Diocese of New Westminster