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'I think the community just needed this' says vigil organizer (8 photos)

About 200 showed support for the local Muslim community during a candlelight vigil tonight at the courthouse

A diverse crowd of Saulites braved the cold tonight in a show of support for the local Muslim community, who are grieving Sunday’s tragic Quebec City mosque shooting.

About 200 people attended a candlelight vigil at the courthouse this evening, organized by local Christian faith leaders in a show of support to the Muslim community.

The Imam of Sault Ste. Marie’s only mosque said the community’s support over the last few days in response to killings in Quebec City have shown him the true nature of Canadians.

“It makes us feel so happy that our friends and our community are coming together to give us support,” said Saber Alkilani.

“I just spoke to some new refugees from Syria and they said they really appreciate this. It helps make us feel good. It makes us feel safe,” he added.

Organization for the vigil began just last night, when Patrick McManus and Pam Rayment — both reverends at Emmaus Anglican Church — made the decision to show support for the local Muslim community.

“We started looking around and no one was doing anything, but something should be done, so we just said ‘okay, if no one is going to do it, we will pull something together,’” said McManus.

The pair began inviting leaders from across the community at large, not just within the faith-based community.

Rayment said, “I think one of the coolest things from just yesterday evening to today, is to recognize just how connected this community of Sault Ste. Marie is. So often we work in our silos, and yet the effort to come together has gone really smoothly.”

Neither McManus nor Rayment had met Alkilani until tonight’s vigil.

“I really appreciate everyone coming tonight to show us solidarity and condolences for those who lost their lives and for the injured people,” said Alkilani immediately after the vigil.

“We are not alone. This is a very good feeling,” he added.

Mayor Christian Provenzano said he has been inspired by the tremendous amounts of kindness he has seen from the community.

When visiting the local mosque to offer condolences yesterday, Provenzano said he witnessed citizens dropping off flowers.

“I was really impressed with their kindness. There was a card they had signed. I didn’t count the signatures, but they were numerous,” said Provenzano.

He added, “I think we have seen the best side of Sault Ste. Marie in the last couple of days.”

Over 100 refugees now call Sault Ste. Marie home, said Provenzano, many sponsored by local families and church groups.

McManus said Sunday’s mosque shooting in Quebec City has affected him deeply as someone who makes a living leading prayer.

“I think the shock waves are still being felt — of what this means to us in Canada and in places of worship — to have this threatened,” said McManus.

“I think the community just needed this. That was our feeling, that the community needed a way to express solidarity,” he added.

When organizers were not able to reach the mosque last night to ask permission to hold the vigil on that property, a snap decision was made to hold it at the courthouse instead.

Rayment said holding the vigil at the courthouse was appropriate because the shooting was not just a Muslim issue, but a justice issue as well.

“The whole thrust of this, and why we see that call to stand in solidarity, is because there is a recognition that basic justice is being threatened and perverted,” she said.

During his remarks to the crowd, McManus called out the names of the six men killed in Sunday’s shooting, while Alkilani condemned the killings.

Words of support were also read by the local Jewish and Metis communities, among others. 

Now that a dialogue has opened between Christian and Muslim leaders, both would like to see the relationship continue.

McManus said it has been quite a long time since there has been formal Christian-Muslim dialogues.

“Something like that would be very worthwhile in the city and go a long way to mutual understanding,” said McManus.

Alkilani said everyone is welcome to visit the mosque at any time.

“We would like people to start to know us. Yes we are new here in the Sault, but we would like to show people we are very open,” he said.

Kenneth Armstrong

About the Author: Kenneth Armstrong

Kenneth Armstrong is a news reporter and photojournalist who regularly covers municipal government, business and politics and photographs events, sports and features.
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