St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church bells tolled 50 times Thursday night coinciding with the victims of the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand a week ago.
Almost as many people — many of them members of Kenosha’s Congregations United to Serve Humanity — spilled onto the lawn while others lined the church walkway as they stood silently carrying candles. They were there to stand together with local members of the Muslim community and to remember those who died.
Some wiped away tears as Fatih Harpci, a Carthage College religion professor, in Arabic invoked spiritual comfort through the Quran in verses of the Surah Al-Baqarah, which called for them to seek help in “patience” and in “prayer.”
Veronica King, a member of CUSH, read from the Bible’s Book of Lamentations that called on them to await “quietly” their salvation.
An Islamic supplication funeral ritual prayer was also read by all those present remembering those who died.
The vigil was one of hundreds of observances held worldwide Thursday night.
The March 15 shootings began at 1:40 p.m. at the Al Noor Mosque in the Christchurch suburb of Riccarton and continued at 1:55 p.m. at the Linwood Islamic Centre. There is an 18-hour difference between New Zealand and Kenosha time zones.
A 28-year-old Australian man, described in international media reports as a white supremacist and a member of the “alt-right,” has since been charged with the murders with leaders of both countries condemning the work as acts of terrorism and violence.
The vigil is one of two local events being held to remember those who were killed in the massacre — the largest mass shooting in New Zealand’s history. Today, at 1 p.m., clergy and community leaders of CUSH will join prayer services with members of the American Albanian Islamic Center, located at Highway H and 60th Street.
Following the vigil, Harpci said that the gatherings being held to remember those who died aren’t about just a Muslim tragedy.
“That should be seen as a human tragedy that affects all of us. The target may be the Muslims in this incident. But, in fact, the target was anyone and everyone who thinks that diversity is our strength,” he said. “So it was targeted at diversity. Not just Muslims.”
He said the New Zealand shootings are ultimately connected to others, including those in Wisconsin and others in the U.S. such as shootings at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, an African American church in Charleston and the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek.
“As you can see, these are all places of worship of different religious traditions,” he said. “The hate is hate, regardless of the background of the perpetrators. ... It has the same DNA.”
St. Matthew’s Church pastor Rev. Matthew Buterbaugh said the church has, unfortunately, tolled the bell for major shootings nationwide in recent years.
“When this happened, it was very natural that all of us that were in the religious leaders caucus wanted to reach out to the Islamic community and make sure they knew we support them,” he said. “We support people of faith in the same kind of way and stand up against violence and acts of hate.”