On April 28, around 60 people formed a “ring of peace” outside of the Our Lady of Good Health Tamil Parish in Toronto, one week after co-ordinated terrorist attacks on Sri Lankan churches and hotels killed an estimated 253 people.
The ring of peace was arranged by the Toronto Board of Rabbis. This marks the fourth time that rings of peace have been formed in the city. The first was after the Quebec City mosque shooting, the second after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting and the third after the massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand.
“It just seemed to be the appropriate thing to do once this terrorist activity happened in Sri Lanka,” said Rabbi Michal Shekel, executive director of the Toronto Board of Rabbis. She added that many Jewish people were not able to attend vigils the previous week because of the final days of Passover.
Rabbi Shekel said that of the approximately 60 people present, there were eight rabbis, three imams, representatives from the Canadian Council of Muslim Women and various interfaith groups, as well as members of Toronto’s Jewish community.
The rings began forming around 30 minutes prior to the start of services and dispersed around 15 minutes after services began.
“It was very moving for us and I think, for the most part, it was very moving for the members of the community, as well,” said Rabbi Shekel. “One young man who was acting as an usher and welcoming people as they came into the church said it made them feel that they weren’t alone and it made them feel that the greater community really cared. So they were very thankful for that support.”
Jude Aloysius, the president of the Toronto Tamil Catholic Association, said that, at first, many members of the congregation did not understand why people were gathered in front of their church.
“But when they heard that this is what was going on, they were happy, they welcomed them and some of them came and talked to the people who came out to the ring of peace,” he said. “In times of trouble, when you have the other community members come and join us, and stand in solidarity, it shows that they care about the other community, as well. And when they are going through hardship, you have the support. It’s most welcome.”
Aloysius said the church community, which has around 800 registered parishioners, will pray for the victims of the attack. He said that when the situation in Sri Lanka becomes more settled, the Toronto church may try to raise money, if it’s needed. He said that some members of the church had family members who were injured in the attacks.
Rabbi Shekel said she hopes people of all faiths realize how much we all have in common, especially as houses of worship across the religions spectrum are targeted.
“Here are all these people who might be strangers to you, but here they are supporting you,” she said. “It gives us this very person-to-person individual level of connection; that we get past all the stereotypes that are out there and we just know that we are people with same basic feelings for our families, for our communities, for the importance of religion in our lives.”