Hundreds walk on Toronto’s ‘Via Dolorosa’ in memory of van attack victims

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Participants in the prayer walk, held in Toronto April 30, make their way along the route taken by the alleged assailant. Photo: Tali Folkins

An estimated 200 people gathered Monday, April 30 at the site of the April 23 Toronto van attack for an Anglican-organized prayer walk and vigil in memory of the victims.

The walk, organized by the diocese of Toronto’s York Mills deanery, began at the intersection of Yonge and Finch streets, just north of where the first victim was struck by the speeding van. Following a prayer by Kevin Robertson, area bishop of York-Scarborough, participants walked southward along part of the alleged assailant’s route, past makeshift memorials of flowers, until they reached the Anglican Church of St. George on Yonge, near which another pedestrian had been killed.

Maxwell Wynter, a warden at St. George, led the way, carrying a processional cross, as the crowd made its way through this neighbourhood of towering condominiums and office buildings, sometimes in silence and sometimes singing the hymn, “Ubi Caritas.” When they reached St. George’s, they gathered inside for a vigil led by Robertson.

The walk began at 1:30 pm, one week to the hour after the alleged assailant drove a van at speed on stretches of sidewalk along Toronto’s busy Yonge Street for nearly a kilometre April 23. Ten people were killed and 16 were injured from the attack. Alek Minassian, 25, has been charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder, and is expected to be charged with another three counts of attempted murder.

At the prayer before the walk began, Robertson read out the names of the victims and asked for prayers for them and for the injured as well as for the driver of the van, his family and the local community. He invited participants to pray for “peace in our world, peace in our city, peace in our homes and peace in our hearts.”

Later, at the vigil, Robertson compared the route taken by the alleged driver of the van to the Via Dolorosa, or way of sorrow, taken by Christ in Jerusalem on his way to the crucifixion. While Christian tradition recognizes 14 stations of the cross along the Via Dolorosa, Robertson said, “our Via Dolorosa today is marked perhaps by 10 points, the 10 points in which people were struck and killed in this stretch of Yonge street.”

Robertson also spoke of the route taken by participants as a “sacred walk” and as a “pilgrimage,” a walk motivated by their belief that death is not the end.

“As people of the resurrection, we’ve made this pilgrimage because we’ve remembered that at the end of this walk is resurrection and new life,” he said.

Robertson then read a litany he said had been circulating in the past few days among many clergy in the area, “Prayers for Yonge and Finch #TorontoStrong,” beginning with 2 Corinthians 4:8, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”

The alleged assailant’s route along Yonge Street, says Kevin Robertson, area bishop of York, is like the Via Dolorosa taken by Christ on his way to the crucifixion. Photo: Tali Folkins

The Rev. Heather Gwynne-Timothy, priest at the Church of the Incarnation in Toronto’s nearby Sheppard-Bayview area and regional dean of York Mills, said the deanery had organized the event not only to honour the memory of the individuals affected, but as a way of reaching out to the whole community.

The Rev. Leonard Leader, priest-in-charge at St. George’s, said none of the church’s parishioners were affected personally by the attack, but many of them live in the area and some of these, he said, have third-hand knowledge of attack victims.

One of the first things the church did after the attack was to open its doors to anyone who wanted to come in to pray, reflect or grieve, he said, though for some time after the incident, the front of the church was considered a crime scene and its front entrance was cordoned off by police tape.

St. George’s, which holds nearly 300 people, was almost full for the vigil, so Leader and Gwynne-Timothy estimated that more than 200 people had taken part.

Participant Gwyn Barker, a member of the Anglican Church of St. Matthew the Apostle, Oriole, also in the York Mills deanery, said she joined the walk because she believed it was important for local Anglicans to come together to show the church was present in the community and ready to support it.

Not all who joined were Anglican. Ken Van Wyk, a member of the Christian Reformed Church, said a need to “mourn for the city” had brought him.

“It matters to take time to grieve a loss,” he said, his voice straining with emotion. “It was a chance just to walk and pray. It’s a healing walk.”

Van Wyk said he intended to follow the rest of the alleged attacker’s route after the vigil.

The prayer walk and vigil was one of a number of events recently held by local faith groups in the aftermath of the attack. A candlelight vigil was held at the Church of the Incarnation on the day of the attack while St. George’s was cordoned off, and a number of churches in the area have opened themselves up for prayer and pastoral care. An ecumenical prayer service for local churches was held at St. Edward the Confessor Roman Catholic Church on the evening of April 26. An interfaith vigil April 29, attended by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and other dignitaries, drew thousands to Mel Lastman Square, on which the alleged attacker at one point drove his van, striking a number of pedestrians.

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Tali Folkins
Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer.

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