Quebec City Anglicans support mosque shooting hero, will join Muslims and others in commemoration

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Aymen Derbali, who was paralyzed from the chest down after the shooting Jan. 29, 2017 at Quebec City's Grand Mosque, is visited by friends and fundraising volunteers at the rehabilitation centre where he is now staying. Photo: Tariq Syed

Quebec City’s Anglican community will be one of six spiritual groups gathering to offer reflective song and prayer to the public Sunday, January 28 at a commemoration of the mass shooting at the city’s Grand Mosque a year ago.

Meanwhile, Anglicans in the city have been supporting efforts to provide a new home for a member of the mosque, whose heroic actions during the attack left him paralyzed from the chest down.

Six men were killed and 19 others wounded when a gunman opened fire on worshippers at the mosque as they prayed shortly before 8 p.m. on January 29, 2017. Alexandre Bissonnette, a university student, has been charged with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder in relation to the attack.

The mass shooting will be commemorated through different events over four days this January 26-29, says Bruce Myers, bishop of the diocese of Quebec. On Friday, January 26, a traditional day of community prayers in the Muslim tradition, Muslims from across the city are expected to gather at the Grand Mosque for special prayers of commemoration. For Saturday, January 27, events planned to be held at various locations in the city include an exhibit in the mosque’s prayer room —where the shooting took place—of expressions of sympathy and support the Muslim community received in the days and weeks following the attack. Also on the 27th, Myers says, will be the premiere screening of a documentary film featuring interviews with immediate family members of the men killed in the attack.

On the evening of the following day, Quebec City Anglicans will join local Muslims, Roman Catholics, Indigenous people, Jews and Buddhists for a spiritual gathering at ExpoCité, a city-owned event-hosting facility, to mark the attack. At that event, which is open to the public, a candle will be lit for each of the victims, and family members will say some words for those who were killed. Then participants from the six different faith communities will deliver prayers from their own traditions, each set to music.

For the Anglican component, a small group of choristers from Quebec City’s Cathedral of the Holy Trinity will sing the Nunc dimittis (The Song of Simeon) from the Gospel of Luke, chosen, Myers says, because it “speaks of the hope and fulfillment of a promise of peace.”

The evening of January 29, the anniversary of the attack, will feature a gathering outside the Grand Mosque with speeches by politicians from various levels of government.

Quebec City Anglicans have also been helping support victims of the attack. In the immediate aftermath, the diocese, Myers says, contributed to a widows’ and orphans’ fund set up to support family members of the victims. More recently, Anglicans have lent their support to Aymen Derbali, a member of the mosque who was shot seven times while reportedly drawing the shooter’s attention to himself in an attempt to save others. He has been called a hero for protecting others during the deadly attack.

Because he is paralyzed from the chest down, Derbali is living in a rehabilitation centre, unable to return to his family’s apartment because it can’t accommodate his wheelchair. Since his story was publicized December 14 in The Globe and Mail, a fundraising campaign has been set up with the goal of raising the $400,000 organizers say is needed to provide a new home for him and his family. Soon thereafter, Myers posted a link on his Facebook page to the fundraising campaign’s website, inviting others to join him in contributing to the fund.

“He literally put himself in the line of fire so that others could be saved, and so my immediate thought about him when I first heard his story and subsequently read some really compelling media accounts of what happened, was Jesus telling us that no one has greater love than to lay down their life for their friends,” Myers says. “Aymen is a living example of this sacrificial love in our midst.”

Meanwhile, Myers says, he discovered that the cathedral parish had designated its Christmas Eve offering to the fund—according to a Facebook post by cathedral Dean Christian Schreiner, this totalled almost $900—and that a fundraising concert is being organized in the cathedral, to take place later this winter.

Aymen Derbali, in wheelchair, attends a service at the Grand Mosque. Photo: Tariq Syed

As of Tuesday, January 23, $287,721 had been raised to find a new home for Derbali and his family. Amira Elghawaby, a volunteer for the group behind the fundraising campaign, says organizers were initially hoping to raise the full $400,000 in time to present it to Derbali on the anniversary of the shooting, “to sort of try to find that good news story amidst all the sadness that many of us are feeling.” The hope now, she says, is that the commemorations will heighten awareness of the shooting survivors’ plight, and spur enough donations to get him and his family the home they need.

Derbali can now move himself around using his electric wheelchair, Elghawaby says, and he is staying hopeful.

“He’s very grateful for the support that he’s received, and what’s remarkable about him is he doesn’t regret for a moment his decision to basically stare down hatred in its vilest form and stand up for fellow worshippers,” she says.

Derbali, Myers says, is planning to attend the commemorative events, and address the gathering on January 28 if he is feeling well enough to do so.

The diocese has been reaching out to Quebec’s Muslim community since the shooting in a variety of ways, Myers said, hosting this fall, for example, a gathering of Muslim and Anglican families in the cathedral, with similar events planned for the near future.

Myers says he also feels that the process of planning the commemoration of last January’s tragedy was something of a step forward in interfaith relations in the city—one he hopes will lead to what he calls “a more intentional, sustained interfaith dialogue.”

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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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