ALLEGANY — Gathered together in the solemnity of the McGinley-Carney Center for Franciscan Ministry Tuesday, about 80 community members, and the students and faculty of St. Bonaventure University, paid their respects to the victims of the Christchurch shooting.
The Celebration of Unity, Love and Religious Freedom was organized by the Muslim Students and Allies Club to honor those lives lost Friday while praying at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre in New Zealand.
"Together we stand not just in nationality but in solidarity, for not only Muslims but for the religious freedom granted to all Americans, regardless of their age, race, religion, sexual identity," said Amina Golden-Arabaty, co-founder of the club. "We gather today to recognize the injustices that the Muslims in New Zealand endured last Friday — that their families will mourn until their last day," she said with a quivering voice and hands trembling.
The names and ages of the 50 worshippers who are being mourned were read Tuesday by members of the MSA Club, the youngest of victims being only 3 years old with many who were teenagers.
The attack by Brenton Harrison Tarrant Friday was the largest mass shooting in New Zealand's history — killing 50 people and wounding 50 more — in a country that typically sees about 35 murders annually and only a handful of deaths by firearms.
"Today, we will be remembering these victims by praying the same prayer that they were in the midst of," Golden-Arabaty said. "We remember them today by letting the light shine."
Tarrant, in a manifesto he disseminated online, claimed to be a white supremacist who was acting out of revenge for attacks he said were perpetrated by Muslims. He also livestreamed 17 minutes of his violent attack at Al Noor Mosque on multiple video-sharing platforms including YouTube.
"We want to commemorate what happened," said Golden-Arabity's brother, Jordan, who co-founded the Muslim Students and Allies Club with his sister and led prayers Tuesday. "It is really important, not only for myself, but for the student body as a whole to put importance on what happened when 50 people passed away in New Zealand and that's what we're doing here."
Amina Golden-Arabaty urged those in the crowd of about 80 gathered to not only recognize injustices of that day, but to celebrate the freedoms that we have and work together to protect those rights. While one individual may not see the difference they make, she urged those in attendance to remember that working together with love can conquer anything that divides us.
Alice Miller Nation, director of the Franciscan Center for Social Concern, agreed.
"Where I do find hope is the gathering we experienced this morning and all the similar gatherings happening around the world," she said. "When we come together to offer support and care and share the intimacy of prayer with one another, we begin to see each other as brothers and sisters, from a family much larger than we can sometimes imagine."
The same sentiment was expressed by Shabana Chauhdry, a member of the campus Islamic Center. "It restores our faith in humanity," she said of Tuesday's service.
Father Michael Calabria, director of the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies, expressed his belief that what happened wasn't just a problem for New Zealand — or just a problem for Muslims — but "a tragedy that the world-wide community must share and ... that we must stand up against such hatred if we are true to our faith, whatever that faith may be."
Calabria wrote a prayer for the service, incorporating some of the 99 names of God in the Muslim religion. He asked that "those who had been injured in mind, body and spirit continue to serve in the light," and that people be "instruments of peace towards all people in a world torn by violence and conflict."
Brother Kevin Kriso was in attendance at the service, he said, due to losing a friend in the terror attacks of 9-11.
"I realized that all this reverberation of violence that is going down the line is not getting us anywhere at all and that we have to come together as a people ... we have to speak out about it and get rid of the violence that is in our hearts."
"Unfortunately," said Barry L. Gan, director of St. Bonaventure's Center for Nonviolence, "until we find a way to remove the feelings of different peoples around the world that others are threats to them, we will continue to be haunted by terrorist attacks aimed at those who appear as threats. The solution does not consist of eliminating people — it consists of eliminating fears that people have of others."