Detroiters pray for Orlando: ‘We are one family’

Holly Fournier, Mark Hicks and Jacob Carah
The Detroit News

In front of a “peace garden” in Wilson Park on the University of Michigan-Flint campus, where a statue of Mahatma Gandhi stands watch in Flint, students, faculty and local members held a candlelight vigil Monday night for victims of the worst mass shooting on U.S. soil.

The ceremony was to show “support and solidarity” for victims of the terrorist attack Sunday in Orlando, Florida. “It’s really about changing people’s hearts and minds,” said Jen Salamone, program manager of the Ellen Bommarito LGBTQ center on campus.

“There’s a saying that, ‘hurt people, hurt people,’ so we want healing to happen,” Salamone said. “When our communities are fractured in this way, with the national landscape as it is, it’s good to come together in small groups, in all sorts of communities to help heal each other.”

In the aftermath of the mass shooting, groups across the region offered prayers and support to those affected by the massacre.

About 100 people gathered at St. Aloysius Church in downtown Detroit for a brief prayer service led by Monsignor Timothy Hogan before a 12:15 p.m. daily Mass.

“It just felt like the right place to be after such a horrible act of violence,” said Christine Center, 27, of Royal Oak. “As the Catholic Church, we’re a people of prayer and a people of peace.”

The slayings also spurred a diverse crowd of about 100 people — including activists, public officials and religious leaders — to gather for a vigil Monday night at Clark Park in southwest Detroit.

“Our hearts are broken,” said the Rev. Jill Zundel of Central United Methodist Church. “Hate continues to be done in the name of God and tonight we say: ‘Enough is enough.’”

The gatherings came in response to Sunday morning’s massacre at a gay nightclub called Pulse Orlando, where Omar Mateen, 29, of Fort Pierce, Florida, opened fire with an assault-type rifle, killing at least 49 and injuring 53 others. Authorities said Mateen referred to the Islamic State in a 911 call early Sunday before the attack.

Police used explosives and a small armored vehicle to punch a hole in a wall, allowing dozens of club-goers to escape. Mateen, an American-born Muslim, died in a gun battle with a SWAT team. FBI officials said they had investigated him in 2013 and 2014 on suspicion of terrorist sympathies but could not make a case against him.

Amid a rainbow-colored display of balloons fluttering in the breeze at Clark Park, those gathered bowed their heads in prayer, lifted candles and denounced the attack as a crime against humanity.

“The Quran states that if you kill even one person, it is as though you’ve killed all of humanity,” said Hassan Sheikh, who represented the Michigan Muslim Community Council. “Not only are these violent acts unjustifiable, but they are a gross violation of the tenets of our faith, and furthermore a complete contradiction to the spirits of the month of Ramadan, which is a month of charity and forgiveness.”

At St. Aloysius on Monday, an inter-faith crowd filled the church pews for the early afternoon service. Among them was Eide Alawan, director of interfaith outreach for the Islamic Center in Dearborn.

“I look at this as a repeat of Sept. 11,” Alawan said of the Orlando shooting. “And I feel that the people who died are a part of my family, part of my humanity.”

Alawan condemned individuals who believe Islam teaches them to commit murder.

“We are one family. We are all created by a creator, whether you call him God or Allah,” Alawan said. “I don’t know of any religion and practices (that) allows or doesn’t condemn the killing of a human being.”

Islam is experiencing a “time of tragedy” like other religions have in the past, Alawan said. “ISIS doesn’t represent Islam any more than the Crusades represent Christianity,” he said.

Hogan urged those gathered to take God’s peace from the church back out into a troubled world. “We gather together today because our nation has been attacked; we have been hurt. We come together as a people of light to comfort the darkness,” he said. “In the midst of the darkness, we come as a people of light to say there is still hope.”

Throughout the emotional service at Clark Park late Monday, participants urged others to seek change.

“Let’s let ourselves be sad and experience the devastation,” said the Rev. Marcia Ledford, co-priest at Detroit’s Iglesia Episcopal Santa Teresa y San Juan. “And when we are done, let us work to end the violence.”

In Flint, the gathering fueled a spirit of unity, participants said.

Linda Samarah, 22, a senior and communications outreach coordinator for the Arab American Heritage Council, said it was important to show her support.

“I think it’s important to be an ally to every marginalized group in society,” she said. “I know first-hand how that feels to be ostracized ... (f)ighting homophobia with Islamophobia isn’t the answer, it only divides us and prevents us from working out these issues.”

The senior, a Flint native, added: “The issue is we get caught up on fighting each other. When it comes down to it, this hateful man could still get access to a gun (and) that issue gets taken away when we are fighting each other.”

The Associated Press contributed.