Most Rev. Kevin Vann, Bishop of Orange, stood in solidarity with Orange County’s Muslim community in the wake of mass shootings in New Zealand.
Bishop Vann called on Christians and Muslims alike to pray for the shooting victims and their families at a recent interfaith ceremony with Imam Sayed Moustafa al-Qazwini. The ceremony at the Islamic Educational Center of Orange County in Costa Mesa was held in honor of the 50 people killed and dozens injured at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
“I come as a friend and a believer to let you know of my solidarity, concern and prayers,” Bishop Vann said during the ceremony. “We must stand firm together. We cannot run from challenges. We cannot let fear overcome us or stop us.”
The ceremony drew about 200 Christian and Muslim worshippers and took place exactly one week after an Australian man with ties to right-wing white supremacist groups attacked worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch during Friday prayer.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called the shootings one of New Zealand’s “darkest days.” The shootings are considered the deadliest attack in the country’s history.
“What has happened in Christchurch is an extraordinary act of unprecedented violence,” she wrote on Twitter shortly after the attacks. “It has no place in New Zealand. Many of those affected will be members of our migrant communities – New Zealand is their home – they are us.”
The attacks were condemned by Pope Francis, who prayed “for the healing of the injured, the consolation of those who grieve the loss of their loved ones, and for all affected by this tragedy.”
“Commending those who have died to the loving mercy of Almighty God, Pope Francis invokes the divine blessings of comfort and strength upon the nation,” Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin wrote in a statement.
Back in Orange County, Bishop Vann joined other spiritual leaders in decrying the shootings as an act of terrorism, and calling on the faithful to unite in prayer and love.
“We must stand together against the racism and xenophobia that at times seems to be taking greater hold throughout the world and, yes, here in the U.S.,” Bishop Vann wrote in a message to Orange County Catholics published shortly after the shootings. “As Catholics, we join with all people of faith in denouncing this ideology and the senseless acts of violence which flow from it.”
During the interfaith ceremony, Bishop Vann read passages from Psalms, and called the gathering of Orange County Catholics and Muslims a “moment of encounter during sorrow and tragedy.”
“We journey together, and together we find strength,” Bishop Vann said.
Along with Imam al-Qazwini, Bishop Vann was joined by Fr. Quan Tran, Episcopal Vicar of the Diocese of Orange Office of Ecumenical & Interreligious Affairs.
Referring to Bishop Vann as a close personal friend, Imam al-Qazwini thanked Bishop Vann for his show of love and solidarity to Orange County’s Muslim county.
“We are very thankful for Bishop Vann being here,” he said, adding that residents of many faiths and backgrounds reached out with words of support to members of the mosque in the wake of the shooting. “Despite our different religious traditions, we are all children of God.”
Imam al-Qazwini called the Christchurch shootings, which targeted men, women and children, as a racist act of terrorism that must be condemned by all humanity. The youngest victim was a 3-year-old boy named Mucad Ibrahim.
“The shootings serve as a reminder that we are going through very difficult times of violence, extremism and racism,” he said. “God teaches us that religion is a safe haven – a place of community and a place of love. Those who kill in the name of religion are not religious – they are disconnected from God. They are lost.”