(This story has been updated with new information about the shooting and additional reactions from church leaders across Canada.)
Anglicans and other Christian leaders have expressed their “sympathy and solidarity” with Muslims following a deadly attack Sunday night on a mosque in the Ste-Foy neighbourhood of Quebec City.
The attack, which left six people dead and 19 others wounded, occurred just before 8 p.m., Jan.29, when a gunman opened fire while evening prayers were underway at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec. Police have charged Alexandre Bissonnette, 27, with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder.
In a January 30 statement, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said his heart “goes out to all Muslims across Canada as they struggle with this terrible attack.” The church holds in its prayers the victims of the attack, their families and their imams, he said.
Hiltz also led national office staff in a 15-minute candlelight service at the Chapel of the Holy Apostles in Toronto to pray for the victims, their families, the Muslim community, the people of Quebec and Canada.
CTV News quoted Mohamed Labidi, vice-president of the Islamic centre, as having described the attack as “a very big tragedy for us.” Labidi added: “We have a sadness we cannot express.” Newspaper reports said the victims were fathers, civil servants and academics.
Hiltz called on people of faith to “stand together in solidarity for those values common to our respective religious traditions,” such as love of God, respect of fellow humans and care for the Earth, and reminded Anglicans of the Old Testament passage from the prophet Micah that had been read earlier on the very same day: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God?” (Micah 6:8).
A joint statement was also issued by Coadjutor Bishop of Quebec Bruce Myers and Bishop of Montreal Mary Irwin-Gibson expressing their “grief and repugnance at this brutal act of violence against another community of faith” in the midst of prayer.
“When one is attacked, we are all attacked, and our whole society is diminished,” they said.
Myers and Irwin-Gibson, who are currently in Canterbury, England, attending a week of formation for recently consecrated bishops, encouraged Anglicans to participate in vigils being held at Église Notre-Dame-de-Foy in Quebec City and at Parc metro station in Montreal January 30.
“Along with our grief and prayers, we are called as disciples of Jesus to express our solidarity with our neighbours who are Muslim,” the statement said.
The Canadian Council of Churches (CCC) expressed “shock and sadness” at the attack, and in a statement signed by CCC president Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan, recommitted itself to “opposing the hate and prejudice that disfigures our communities and leads to violence both at home and abroad.”
The statement also noted that Quebec’s Muslim community “has been the target of hateful, Islamophobic acts within the recent past,” and that the CCC’s member churches would work toward “protecting and advancing the fundamental freedom of conscience and religion for all Canadians.”?
When contacted by the Anglican Journal following the release of the joint statement, Myers cautioned against making any assumptions about what had motivated the attack on the mosque, given that the investigation was still unfolding.
However, he acknowledged that the Muslim community was “clearly targeted.”
Myers had first become acquainted with the Islamic Cultural Centre in June 2016, shortly after taking up the role of coadjutor bishop. Following an incident in which a severed pig’s head was left outside the doors of the mosque with a note reading “bon appétit” during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Myers visited the mosque to express his regret about the incident. The eating of pork is foribdden in Islam.
Bishop Bruce Myers meets with Sheikh Mohammed Serrar at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec following the incident of the pig’s head. Photo: Contributed
“The incident with the pig’s head, I think, clearly shows that there is at least some element of Islamophobia in Quebec City, but I think that could be said of every city [in Canada],” he said. “My hope and conviction is that it is not representative in a widespread way of the city of Quebec and its citizens.”
Myers says one of his first priorities upon returning from Canterbury will be getting in touch with the Islamic Cultural Centre’s community and building on the relationship he established in 2016.
“This isn’t going to be something that resolves itself tomorrow,” he said. “I think we will find that this will leave a deep scar on the soul of our city, and it is something with which we are going to have to wrestle for weeks and months and years to come.”
He encouraged Anglicans to take to the streets and join the many “spontaneous” vigils springing up in Quebec City and Montreal to “visibly express” solidarity with Muslims.
“That can be as simple as just joining other people in the community in which you live to say, ‘We stand with these people, and we don’t want this sort of thing to happen again,’ ” said Myers.
Some Anglican churches, like Ottawa’s Christ Church Cathedral, hosted prayer gatherings and vigils. Others, such as the diocese of Huron, encouraged people to attend community gatherings.
Bishop Michael Oulton, of the diocese of Ontario, announced that a service using the Coventry Litany of Reconciliation will be held at noon February 3 on the steps of St. George’s Anglican Cathedral in Kingston to “focus our prayers and actions on the ministry of reconciliation” in the wake of the attack.
Bishop Peter Fentry, area bishop for York-Simcoe in the diocese of Toronto, also released a statement on January 30, calling on Anglicans in Toronto with connections to mosques to “reach out to imams and their people, letting them know that we stand with them in this time of trial.”
The diocese of British Columbia also released a statement referencing the one released by Hiltz, calling on Anglicans to stand with those affected by the shooting.
“Acts of violence of every kind must be challenged, and those giving rise to widespread fear must be repudiated as contrary to our shared values of compassion, peace and justice,” the statement said.
The response was not limited to Canadian religious leaders. Pope Francis also expressed his condolences for the community.
In a telegram to Quebec Cardinal Gérald Lacroix, he entrusted “to the mercy of God the persons who lost their lives,” and expressed his “profound sympathy for the wounded and their families,” according to the National Post.
As Associated Press report quoted The Vatican’s office of relations with Muslims as saying the attack “violated the sacredness of human life and the respect owed to a community in prayer in a place of worship.”