Religious leaders at New York vigil urge people to be calm

by Ed Wilkinson

BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CNS) — During a candlelight vigil for peace July 11 in Brooklyn, religious leaders called for calm in the wake of recent shootings in different parts of the country.

“Today, despite all the many advances, our nation seems to remain torn apart over race. The victims are our children, our brothers and sisters, our parents, our friends and loved ones,” said Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn.

At the vigil, attended by more than 1,500 people, the bishop prayed that people in this country would see each other as brother and sister after the deaths of two black men shot by white police officers in Louisiana and Minnesota and the five white police officers killed by a black sniper in Dallas. He also mentioned the victims in Orlando, Florida, where a lone gunman went on a rampage at a gay nightclub.

Bishop DiMarzio alluded to the fact the prayer service was being held in the shadows of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Arch that commemorates those who died in the Civil War, which ended the institution of slavery.

“But more needs to be done,” he said.

Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Buddhist, Sikh and Muslim leaders as well as politicians urged the need for peace and calm.

“There are no winners when we think that violence is the answer,” said the Rev. A.R. Bernard, pastor of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn. “Violence breeds more violence.”

He asked for organizations and individuals to “model listening” and to sincerely reflect on the issue of racism.

“We need God,” he added. “We need divine inspiration.”

A special invitation to the rally had been issued to local police precincts and hundreds of officers responded. The men and women in blue mixed with the crowd, participated in the service, and also stood at the perimeters to provide security. There were no incidents or outbursts during the service.

The vigil was organized by the Diocese of Brooklyn in conjunction with the Office of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.

“We need the police and the police need the people of this city,” said Adams, who served as a police officer for 22 years. He said that people and police want the same thing — to be able to leave their homes and safely return to them each evening.

Citing the diversity of Brooklyn, he said, “If Brooklyn gets it right, the planet gets it right. Innocent people should not die.”

Retired Rabbi Joseph Potasnik of Congregation Mount Sinai in Brooklyn also noted that “both communities want the same thing. We, the decent, must stand against the indecent in all communities.”

“We are many tonight in Brooklyn but we are one tonight in Brooklyn,” said the rabbi, who was has served as chaplain of the New York City Fire Department and the Fraternal Order of Police.

At the conclusion of he vigil, Bishop DiMarzio asked all to join together in a moment of silence, which was followed by the singing of “Let There Be Peace on Earth” and an exchange of the sign of peace.

As the crowd dispersed, many stopped to shake hands with and pose for photos with police officers.

Participants lingered at the plaza following the prayers. Among them was Macho Cordero, a parishioner of St. Matthias in Ridgewood. Having prayed side by side with Protestants, Muslims, Sikhs and others, gave him hope that the country can continue to grow in love and respect.

“If we can come together with so many races and religions, we can live together,” he told The Tablet, Brooklyn’s diocesan newspaper.

Christie Burnham, a Brooklyn resident and member of the Christian Cultural Center, said she came to the vigil because the issue is personal to her. She has two sons, 12 and 18, who must navigate their daily lives with a real threat of neighborhood violence and police profiling.

“I pray for my boys,” she said. “I pray that I won’t have to bury them.”

She said she teaches her sons to be respectful of all people. She teaches them to be courteous to officers, even when they are being stopped in the street, to comply with instructions and to know their rights but she fears this may not be enough.

Even though she worries for her family and her country, she was not afraid to come to the rally, she said, because she believes hope and prayers are stronger than violence. She also came to pray for police officers’ safety and responsibility.

Msgr. Robert Romano, deputy chief of chaplains for the New York Police Department, said the vigil was a strong show of unity and a sign of good will from the police to the community and from the community towards the police.

He encourages all people of goodwill to continue building bridges between the public and the officers meant to protect them and to not be afraid to be courteous to officers walking in the street by greeting them and making them feel appreciated.

Copyright ©2016 Catholic News Service / U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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