• James Armstrong

Local faith communities stand together in the face of tragedy and loss


Area community and spiritual leaders share their thoughts with The Journal following the news of the mass killing of Muslims in New Zealand on March 15.

The recent massacre of Muslims at prayer in New Zealand on Friday, March 15 was a sharp echo of a similar killing spree that took place at a Quebec City mosque on January 29, 2017. The response of local religious leaders and individuals involved in faith communities of the area expressed a common thread: stand by each other, support each other, and get to know each other.

Rabbi Nachum Labkowski from the Chabad Centre for Jewish Life in Saint-Lazare sent the following statement to The Journal:

“On behalf of the local Jewish community I extend our condolences to those who lost loved ones in these horrific terror attacks.

“Our response ought to be boundless love and unity. We fight evil with acts of goodness and kindness. People are in pain, and we share in that pain. We cannot overestimate the value of every hug, every gesture, and every hand that is extended in support.”

Breaking down the barriers

The members of Wyman Memorial United Church in Hudson lit a candle that burned throughout their Sunday morning service in memory of those who died, who were wounded, and their families and friends.

“I have reached out via e-mail to our local mosque,” said Reverend Kent Chown. “With these kinds of events, many people, particularly Muslims, go to worship with a sense of fear and anxiety.” He noted the reported rise of white supremacy and white nationalism, groups whose message is easily spread via social media platforms. ”What we need to do to counter the rise of white supremacy and white nationalism is reduce fear,” said Chown. He described ‘fear’ primarily as being afraid of the unknown, being afraid of the other.

“We need to encourage each other to get to know one another. Break down the walls that separate,” he said, adding those walls often become the precursors of violence. “If we get to know one another, we are less likely to harm each other,” he said. Chown noted the local Muslim had reached out previously.

“They held an open house following the massacre in Québec City and they have been involved in other community support activities in the last couple of years. Supporting one another, standing together, being in the community with one another, get to know someone, that’s the long-term solution,” said Chown. “If you have kids, encourage them to get to know people of other races and religions. Break down the barriers.”

Accepting others

In a similar vein, Father Roland Demers of Saint Thomas Aquinas Catholic Parish in Hudson expressed his sympathies for the shattered Muslim community.

“None of these things should happen,” he told The Journal. “There is no reason to accept these types of assaults.” Father Demers emphasized the need for respect for the defenceless.

“It applies in our own community, as well,” he said. “We are all sisters and brothers. God loves and accepts each of us as we are. It’s humans that judge.”

As an antidote to the fear and anxiety resulting from the violence, Demers recommended love and simple acts of kindness.

“We know that love will survive and we have to learn to accept the differences of others,” he said noting the acts of violence are against humanity and charity. “Accepting others becomes contagious.”

Response from our Member of Parliament

“Our community is blessed to have churches, a Chabad House, and an Islamic Community Centre that all serve not only as places of worship but also places where we gather as a community to be in service to our neighbours,” said MP Peter Schiefke in a letter to The Journal. “They offer classes, serve food to those in need, and organize positive activities for seniors and youth alike. Not only do we need to make sure these places stay safe, but we also need to do everything we can to stand in solidarity with our neighbours of all faiths and reassure them that hatred and bigotry have no place in our society and we will do everything we can to combat and end them.”

Responding to evil with acts of kindness

Several individuals have dedicated themselves to performing an act of kindness in the name of each of the victims.

“When something dark happens, we go out and fill the space with acts of goodness,” said local gardener and environmentalist Elaine Steinberg. It was a message she heard during worship at a Montreal Synagogue on Saturday, March 16.

“The worry is terrorists worldwide,” she added. However, the effect of performing acts of kindness is a chain reaction.

“It’s a populist action that happens by word of mouth,” she said. “The time has come. Enough.” Steinberg concluded by saying that individually we are small and insignificant – a mere dot, but the dots add up.

Although The Journal reached out several times, members of the Islamic community in Vaudreuil-Dorion opted not to make any statements regarding the New Zealand massacre, understandable in light of global events.

However, they may not be aware of the amount of support for there is for them in the wider Vaudreuil-Soulanges community.

“In tragic moments like these, we are reminded how united we are,” said Rabbi Labkowski. “Despite our differences, humanity is one family.”

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