Duckler: Another massacre, another vigil

  • Judy Forest and Yorke Peeler of Concord attend a vigil for the victims of last week’s terror attack in New Zealand on Friday at the Islamic Society of Greater Concord.

  • Nancy Wood of Concord listens during a vigil for the victims of last week’s terror attack in New Zealand on Friday in Concord. MICHAEL PEZONE photos / Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 3/23/2019 5:17:27 PM

Rev. Jason Wells and others from Concord’s religiously tolerant community, certainly a passionate and visible group, were out in full force Friday.

Yet again.

This time they met outside of the city’s lone mosque, the Islamic Society of Greater Concord. With the weather conditions – cold, rain – perfect for such a setting, they stood under umbrellas in silence, about 100 paying tribute to the 50 killed this month at a pair of mosques in New Zealand.

They sang songs. They read speeches. They listened to the reading of these hard-to-pronounce names, each accompanied with the ring of a bell.

Wells, who lives in Pembroke, is the executive director of the New Hampshire Council of Churches. He’s the former president of the Greater Concord Interfaith Council. It’s his job to pray, but, after this latest massacre, even this man of God sounded a bit disheartened over the mass shootings that have occurred in recent years, killing and wounding and ruining the lives of whole families and entire towns.

“With the frequency of these shootings, I hear a lot from activists and faith-based groups,” Wells said by phone, shortly before the tribute began. “They say there is a real sadness for the moment, and in this case that moment would be for our Muslim communities.”

Then the Reverend stepped back and took a wider view.

“But there will be a sense today that we are grieving twice, over the fear for Muslims and a second grieving process from recognizing that we keep holding these vigils after these mass murders.”

Indeed, we do. At least 10 people have been shot to death in 11 different incidents this decade alone. People die from gunshots, then people congregate to honor the people who have died.

Then people die, again.

The tragedies blend into one another, like a kaleidoscope of wet paint. The questions are always the same.

Was there a certain group of people targeted? How many dead? How many hurt? The numbers roll in.

Eleven people at a Pittsburgh synagogue. Forty-nine people at a gay nightclub in Florida. Fifty-eight people at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas. Twenty-six people at a grade school in Newtown, Conn.

Fifty people at two mosques in New Zealand. Another ceremony. How many more will be needed? When?

Wells and Suzanne Rude, the president of the Greater Concord Interfaith Council, and Rev. Lyn Marshall of the Unitarian Universality Church come to these events and offer comfort.

They speak informally, before the ceremony begins, and they speak officially, into a microphone to an attentive group.

Rude, one of the central organizers of this latest vigil, mentioned to me in the rain that Islam is part of the city’s interfaith council, a group that promotes religious tolerance.

She mentioned that the council sponsors 12 public events a year, including the International Day of Peace in September and a Holocaust Remembrance Day in April. She pointed out that there were Jewish people standing in the cold Friday, and Buddhists and Bahais, too.

I asked if her faith had been rattled, if her optimism had been chiseled away by this most recent shooting incident.

“We don’t give up,” Rude said.

Not even a little? I pressed.

“We don’t give up,” she repeated.

Rude introduced Marshall, the first of several people called to read the names of those killed in New Zealand. The speakers added a few seconds of description to each name, a nugget of information to bring them to life at this mosque, thousands of miles from the mosques in which the killings happened.

The 3-year-old kid with the dynamite personality. The 14-year-old teen with kind eyes. The 21-year-old with a new job and a wedding to plan for. The father who died along with his own father and who left a baby behind.

Gail Page, a member of the Wesley United Methodist Church, allowed a whisper of skepticism to escape when asked if she feared that another mass shooting was right around the corner.

“There have been too many occasions,” Page said. “Happen again? Yes, I am afraid of that. But I steadfastly believe that God is in charge.”

Susan Brewer is a member of the Bahai faith. She echoed Page, saying, “The Bahai attitude is that God is in control of what happens. We can only take care of what we can take care of.”

Yorke Peeler and Judy Forest, both of whom live at the Havenwood Retirement Community, stood up front near the microphone in matching blue raincoats. Forest held a handmade sign that read, “Love your neighbor.” Peeler held the umbrella.

“We’re very concerned about expressing our unity with the religious community,” Peeler said. “We hope that gets others to join with us against hate.”

We’re all waiting for that. Meanwhile, there we were again, this time in the parking lot of a mosque on North Main Street, trying to make sure that Muslims felt welcome, that the recent shootings had nothing to do with the feelings here.

“The best response in a situation like this is we find togetherness and unity,” Wells said. “We show the attackers their wishes will not be fulfilled here and we won’t be broken apart.”

Then he added, “There’s a sadness and a grieving process here. I hope to see the day when these events are no longer held.”

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