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Hope and healing: Community comes together in Sterling to honor Orlando shooting victims

Members of the faith community and Northern Virginia residents attended a service at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Sterling Monday night and participated in a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Orlando massacre, the nation’s worst mass shooting. Times-Mirror/Rick Wasser
Rev. Anya Sammler-Michael rings a gong 50 times in remembrance of the 50 murdered people in Orlando during a service at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Sterling Monday night. Times-Mirror/Rick Wasser

The first ringing of the bell Monday night at Sterling's Unitarian Universalist Congregation echoed through the standing room only crowd – a powerful reminder of just one of the lives lost early Sunday in Orlando in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.

Then came a second ring, a third and a fourth until 50 chimes filled the area with people of all faiths, races and sexual orientations.

Some bowed their heads, others openly wept as they tried to make sense of the violence in Florida where 50 people were killed and 53 others were injured by a lone gunman, Omar Mateen, 29, who opened fire at Pulse, a popular gay nightclub that was holding its Latino night.

“Two-and-a-half weeks ago, I stood in this very spot and welcomed the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, D.C. It was a grand event, celebrating the great leaps forward this country has made in civil rights for all,” said Paul Roche, the Sterling Unitarian Universalist board president. “Here we are once again, but for a terribly different reason … on behalf of our congregation, I will say that our heart breaks for the LGBTQ community, our Muslim brothers and sisters whose families must once again bear the burden of suspicion and hate and for all peace-loving people everywhere.”

Those who attended the event were given tags with “love” painted on them and a number – one for each victim of the shooting.

For the Rev. Daniel Velez Rivera of Leesburg's St. Gabriel's Episcopal Church, the tragedy in Orlando hit too close to home.

Rivera's journey to ministry, he said, started at a gay nightclub in Boston about 25 years ago during a Latino night. It was there, on the dance floor, where he met his best friend and his husband.

“Our encounter is one of the reasons why I'm alive and here today,” Rivera said.

The reverend said he went to the nightclubs to encounter other Latino gay people “to dance to our music and essentially to have a community that knew me, unfiltered and unedited.”

That community, he said, taught him to love himself for the way God made him without fear.

During that time, Rivera began to train to be able to educate the public about the AIDS virus that, at the time, had reached crisis level in the 1980s. For Spanish-speaking individuals at the time, there was a void in AIDS education and Rivera watched as his brothers and sisters continued to die from the virus.

“So I cut my teeth, so to speak, doing grassroots community education in the bars,” Rivera said. “Today … as a minister, I also believe that we must have a holistic approach to living in holiness. It was at a gay bar like Pulse that I learned to be a community leader and a community organizer.”

The reverend said it could easily have been him 25 years ago in a gay nightclub fighting for his life against a lone gunman filled with hatred.

“I'm here today to pray for the souls of the murdered victims, for their families, their best friends, for their one-night stands … and yes, even for those whose eyes they caught on that Saturday night into Sunday morning but didn't have the courage to say 'hi.'”

Almost every religion was represented at the Monday event, all offering a message of hope and love, not hatred, even for those who want to harm others.

“Neighbors and community members, these are all titles because we live in a society, so I'm going to try and break that barrier and just say fellow brothers and sisters, fellow human beings,” said Gupreet Singh, vice president of Loudoun Interfaith Bridges. “For the color of blood that runs through all our veins is red … we are pulled together at this moment of sadness to share the sorrow that this tragedy has brought to all of us here and in Orlando.”

As the sun set on the event, individuals holding candles, walking from the Sterling congregation across the street to face the intersection of Davis Road and Atlantic Boulevard, stood silently in solemn remembrance, immune to the blinking traffic lights and honking horns.

“God tells us in the Koran, that if you take the life of one it's as if you've taken the life of all of humanity. And if you've taken to save a life, it's as if you've saved the life of all humanity,” said Rizwan Jaka, board president of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society. “What happened with 50 people killed and 53 people injured, that outlaw, that criminal took the life of all of humanity and we stand against any type of bigotry and hatred of any community ...”

Those who attended Monday night's vigil stand in solidarity off Church Road during a candlight vigil. Times-Mirror/Hannah Dellinger


JT - which one is the rhetorical question?  Wait, don’t answer that.  Simply remember that sarcasm and rhetorical questions do not play well on message boards.  There is no way to know what you mean besides reading your precise words.  So, were you chastising ADAMS or were you actually saying the opposite of what you wrote?

@Dante_Callme - Do you know what a rhetorical question is? There is nothing “arrogant” about my comments.

Jean T. What an arrogant criticism about the Adams Center not being lit properly.  Have you ever been there?  Do you realize the building they use is not a stand alone mosque?  Not sure what it would take to even light their place but the idea you are projecting that without a change in lighting, somehow they are less that supportive is mean spirited and reeks of underlying hatred.

Topsy turvy Jeanne! Talking about mass shootings not the faux reason for it.


Are you opposed to the Government confiscating weapons today? Or was it only wrong because they confiscated them from the Indians?

“Yup and I can do the same with the Bible”

LivinginVA didn’t read the entire passage of the parable Jesus cited in Luke 19. And yes, that was Jesus Himself speaking, including the verse LivinginVA quoted.

I would invite LivinginVA to read the entire parable, actually the entire chapter, and interpret it for us. What was Jesus saying here? What was He telling His audience, who were Jewish? (Remember, Jesus wasn’t a Christian; He was Jewish, thoroughly Jewish.)

What does LivinginVA think about the fact that it was Jesus who was saying these words? Does LivinginVA even realize that it was Jesus who is speaking here?

Landmarks around the world are lit up in rainbow colors in honor of the victims of the Orlando Muslim massacre.  Why isn’t the ADAMS Center lit up in rainbow colors?

SWSWSW: Yup and I can do the same with the Bible:

Luke 19:27: But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.

Not sure what your point is.

SWSWSW: Yup and I can do the same with the Bible:

Luke 19:27: But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.

Not sure what your point is.

FTA:  ““God tells us in the Koran, that if you take the life of one it’s as if you’ve taken the life of all of humanity. And if you’ve taken to save a life, it’s as if you’ve saved the life of all humanity,” said Rizwan Jaka, board president of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society.”

This is Sura 5:32 in its entirety:

“[5:32] Because of this, we decreed for the Children of Israel that anyone who murders any person who had not committed murder or horrendous crimes, it shall be as if he murdered all the people. And anyone who spares a life it shall be as if he spared the lives of all the people. Our messengers went to them with clear proofs and revelations, but most of them, after all this, are still transgressing.”

So this was decreed for the Jews. Not quite the same as quoted in the article.  And the above little gem is followed by this one:

[5:33] “The just retribution for those who fight GOD and His messenger, and commit horrendous crimes, is to be killed, or crucified, or to have their hands and feet cut off on alternate sides, or to be banished from the land. This is to humiliate them in this life, then they suffer a far worse retribution in the Hereafter.”

It is imperative to read these verses in their entirety. Otherwise, you are being deceived.

If Jaka is going to quote, I guess I can pick from one of the 100+ verses as well:  Quran (3:56) - “As to those who reject faith, I will punish them with terrible agony in this world and in the Hereafter, nor will they have anyone to help.”

Wasn’t Wounded Knee in 1890 the worst mass killing on US soil, done by the government confiscating weapons from Indians, 270 dead, 200 women and children!

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