PITTSBURGH — Thousands of people gathered outside and inside the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall of the University of Pittsburgh Oct. 28 at an interfaith service to mourn the victims of the horrific shooting a day earlier at the Tree of Life synagogue.
A Baptist gospel choir opened the service, which was organized under the banner “Stronger Together.” Christian and Muslim clergy were among those who made remarks, but the leaders of the service were rabbis representing the three Jewish congregations who used the synagogue.
Rabbi Jonathan Perlman, described as choking back tears, said: “What happened yesterday will not break us. It will not ruin us. We will continue to thrive and sing and worship and learn together and continue our historic legacy in the city with the friendliest people that I know.”
At the Vatican Oct. 28, Pope Francis prayed for those affected by the deadly attack, calling it an “inhumane act of violence.” “May the Lord help us extinguish the fires of hatred that develop in our society,” the pope prayed after reciting the Angelus prayer.
That same day and in the days that have followed a cascade of interfaith services have been held in cities around the country to mourn the loss of life in what is being called the worst attack on a synagogue in U.S. history.
Outside the synagogue hundreds have paid their respects to the dead at a makeshift memorial made with stars of David, each bearing the name of a victim.
A 46-year-old Pittsburgh man, Robert Bowers, is accused of the shooting. He allegedly shouted that “all Jews must die” before entering the synagogue in the Squirrel Hill section of the city and opening fire. Police said he was armed with three handguns and an AR-15 “style” weapon. He is believed to have acted alone.
Bowers has been charged with 29 separate federal crimes, including hate crimes and weapons offenses. He appeared before a federal magistrate Oct. 29 to hear the charges against him. Bowers is being held without bail.
An outpouring of sympathy for the synagogue’s community and the city of Pittsburgh has come from religious leaders of all faiths, plus a pledge to join together to fight anti-Semitism, attacks on any religion and hatred directed to any group in the U.S., and to address gun violence in this country.
Catholic leaders were quick to condemn the shooting massacre, offer prayers and condolences for the victims and call for efforts to this wave of gun violence.
Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley said that Catholics joined with the Jewish people in a commitment “to building a civilization of love to combat the hatred, violence and anti-Semitism in our world.”
The Pittsburgh tragedy “will not defeat us in pursuing this commitment, it will not defeat people of goodwill and it will not defeat the Jewish people,” he said in an Oct. 27 statement.
Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich joined his voice in condemning “in the strongest terms this anti-Semitic act of depravity and the rhetoric, heartlessness and apathy that have allowed hatred to flourish in our society.
“Make no mistake. Words incubate evil and allow it space to be accepted. Words that give voice to fear mongering that causes people to arm themselves against anyone who is ‘other,’” he said. “And it will take more than words to stop this predictable maelstrom of hostility and violence that threatens to change our nation.”
Among other Catholic leaders weighing on the tragedy were the Sisters of Bon Secours.
“As women of healing, we hold fast to the belief that the power of love is stronger than the power of hate,” the religious congregation said in an Oct. 30 statement released from its headquarters in Marriottsville, Maryland.
“In this spirit of love, we commit ourselves to actively promote a culture of Gospel nonviolence in our own lives and to bring a healing presence in those divisive situations in which we find ourselves,” the statement said.
It added: “We stand in solidarity with all those who continue to press Congress to enact legislation on gun safety and with those who advocate for support services needed by those who suffer from emotional, psychological and mental health challenges.”