LITTLE CURRENT—The mood was sombre as people from across Manitoulin filed into Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Little Current to fill the pews for an inter-faith candlelight vigil ‘Candles of Love’ in memory of the six men slain in a hate crime perpetrated at a Quebec mosque last week.
The vigil, organized by Sarah Quackenbush, Kate MacKeracher, Sara Turner and Audrey Jones, attracted participants from several different faiths, and even some who profess no particular faith at all, but who wished to express their solidarity with the families who lost their loved ones.
“I am so grateful for the incredible outpouring of love and support shown on Manitoulin for Muslim people,” said Ms. Quackenbush. “I have had the privilege of witnessing acts of kindness toward Muslim people in our communities during the past year (since the arrival of the refugee families to Manitoulin). I’ve seen people drop off cookies at the homes, volunteer to teach ESL, invite the families to their house for dinner, others who have supported the families as close friends and countless other acts of kindness. I’ve heard time and time again the simple comment, ‘I’m so grateful they (the newcomers) are part of our community’.”
On the evening itself, Ms. Quackenbush said “The evening was a wonderful way not only to remember the lives of the victims of the shooting but to show support to the Muslim people in our own community. I personally was very encouraged to see such a good turn-out to the vigil. I think everyone walked away with their hearts filled with the peace, unity and community that the people of Manitoulin are known for.”
Two of the Eritrean families sponsored by Manitoulin’s Refuge Committee last year, most of whom are themselves Muslim.
The evening began with a poem read by Fathiya Rage-Ibrahim, the mother of one of the two families that have settled in Little Current.
“If this happened last year, before Fathiya, Mohamed, Romme had come to us, this would have been easier,” said Ms. Quackenbush, her voice quavering as she acted as facilitator for the vigil. “It’s terrible to say,” she admitted, “now the community knows the families, their children…”
Ms. Rage-Ibrahim led off the vigil with a recitation of the names of the six victims, as volunteers lit a candle at the front of the church for each, as Ms. Quackenbush read the men’s bios out to the assembly: “Ibrahima Barry, husband and the father of four, was a dedicated family man who was
always with his children. Mr. Barry immigrated to Canada from Guinea. He worked in information technology at the health insurance board of Quebec. He supported his
immediate and extended family, both in Canada and in Africa.
“Mamadou Tanou Barry, husband and the father of two boys. Mr. Barry took on the responsibility to support not only his family here but also his widowed mother and family in Africa. He and his cousin Ibrahima (also one of the victims) were as close as brothers, often working and practicing their faith together, always smiling.
“Azzeddine Soufiane, husband and the father of three children was a grocer and butcher. He was
important member of the community and a person who called Quebec home for 30 years. He often helped newcomers, his store became known a refuge for newcomers in the city. He was described as a ‘father to everyone, a brother to everyone.
“Khaled Belkacemi, husband and father of three children. Mr. Belkacemi was a professor at the Universite Laval in the food science department. He was an esteemed member of the faculty and the university, a devoted and beloved man of his colleagues and students. His son describes him as a good man, an example of resilience, a man loved by all, a professor and researcher emeritus, a fighter, a man who left his country (Algeria) to give his family a chance to live far
away from horror of war.
“Abdelkrim Hassane, husband and father of three daughters. Mr. Hassane worked in information technology for the government.
“Aboubaker Thabti was married and had two children, a son and a daughter. He had worked as a pharmacist, moving to Canada 10 years ago from Tunisia.
The gathered sang the funeral anthem ‘Amazing Grace’ as Russell Smith, partner to Ms. Turner, played the guitar.
Sarah Turner read a verse from 1st Timothy, chapter II: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
Pam Jackson read a Bahia unity prayer: “O my God! O my God! Verily, I invoke Thee and supplicate before Thy threshold, asking Thee that all Thy mercies may descend upon these souls. Specialize them for Thy favor and Thy truth.
“O Lord! Unite and bind together the hearts, join in accord all the souls, and exhilarate the spirits through the signs of Thy sanctity and oneness. O Lord! Make these faces radiant through the light of Thy oneness. Strengthen the loins of Thy servants in the service of Thy kingdom.
“O Lord, Thou possessor of infinite mercy! O Lord of forgiveness and pardon! Forgive our sins, pardon our shortcomings, and cause us to turn to the kingdom of Thy clemency, invoking the kingdom of might and power, humble at Thy shrine and submissive before the glory of Thine evidences.
“O Lord God! Make us as waves of the sea, as flowers of the garden, united, agreed through the bounties of Thy love. O Lord! Dilate the breasts through the signs of Thy oneness, and make all mankind as stars shining from the same height of glory, as perfect fruits growing upon Thy tree of life.
“Verily, Thou art the Almighty, the Self-Subsistent, the Giver, the Forgiving, the Pardoner, the Omniscient, the One Creator, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.”
“I am not very religious,” admitted Katie Harper, “but I am here because I believe that we are all equal.”
There was a plea for forgiveness for the attacker and compassion for his family as well.
Siska Poenn read from Isiah 11:4, which in the New International Version of the Bible reads “but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.”
“But I find myself asking, ‘when is that going to happen?’,” she lamented. “Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek,” she continued, suggesting that by not seeking to retaliate, humanity might take a step closer to the end of the cycle of war. “By not doing what these people are doing, we might put love into action and influence others to do the same.”
Seven year-old Isaac Quackenbush, son of Ben and Sarah Quackenbush read ‘Hug O’ War’ by the late Shel Silverstein: “I will not play at tug o’ war, I’d rather play at hug o’ war, where everyone hugs, instead of tugs, where everyone giggles, and rolls on the rug, where everyone kisses, and everyone grins, and everyone cuddles, and everyone wins.”
Mr. Smith sang ‘Climb’ by United Pursuit Band, a touching song whose minor chords and lyrics encapsulated the spirit of the evening: “I lean not on my own understanding; My life is in the hands of the Maker of heaven; I give it all to You God trusting that you’ll make something beautiful out of me; There’s nothing I hold on to; There’s nothing I hold on to; There’s nothing I hold on to; There’s nothing I hold on to; I will climb this mountain with my hands wide open; I will climb this mountain with my hands wide open.”
Audrey Jones led the interfaith responsive reading/prayer: “Eternal God, Creator of the universe, there is no God but you. Great and wondrous are your ways. Thank you for the many ways we affirm your presence and purpose, and the freedom to do so.” To which the attendees responded with the refrain “Eternal God, creator of the universe, there is no God but you.”
Ms. Rage-Ibrahim, herself a mother of two children, then stepped forward to deliver an impassioned response to the evening’s proceedings in which she assured the community that she and her fellow refugees felt both welcome and safe in their beds. So welcoming had the Refuge Committee been, along with the rest of the Island community, that they considered them to now be a part of their families. “I feel safe,” she assured everyone.
Candles were distributed to the attendees and each was lit by the light of one of the candles dedicated to the slain.
Following the vigil, members of the two refugee families were escorted through the cold night air to their homes by those attending the vigil.