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Ottawa archbishop evokes words of St. John Paul II after shooting rampage

By Deborah Gyapong

Canadian Catholic News

10/29/2014
MEMORIAL — Police vehicles line Elgin St. near the National War Memorial in Ottawa, while the flag on the Peace Tower flies half mast in honour of slain Corporal Nathan Cirillo, 24. (CCN/Gyapong photo)

OTTAWA (CCN) — People need to be vigilant as they continue their daily routine, said Ottawa archbishop Terrence Prendergast in the wake of the attack on Parliament Hill that left a soldier and the shooter dead.

“And while remaining alert to signs of behaviour that can be harmful, we need to go about our business as the friendly and welcoming people I have come to know Ottawans to be,” he said.

The archbishop cancelled his annual fundraising dinner Oct. 22 which was to be held the evening of the shooting rampage that left corporal Nathan Cirillo dead at the National War Memorial and Michael Zehaf-Bibeau dead inside Parliament.

“Yesterday was the first feast of St. John Paul II, whose first words as pope were memorable: ‘Don’t be afraid! Open your hearts wide to Christ,’ ” he said in an email interview Oct. 23. “These words apply most appropriately to this present moment in our life in the nation’s capital, but they speak also to all Canadians.”

“God is still the Lord of our lives and is at work in the hearts of the bystanders who attempted CPR, called the police and other first responders who showed themselves courageous in putting their lives at risk in a moment of crisis,” he said. “We have much to be grateful for. To live with moral certitude is to presume people mean me/us well and we should live out of that conviction.”

The morning of the shootings, Prendergast was in Blessed Sacrament Church in Toronto celebrating the funeral of a friend when he heard the news.

“As I went back to the sacristy, someone mentioned that there was a terrorist action going on in Ottawa in generic terms, that much of Ottawa was on lockdown and that I should check to see whether I could fly to Ottawa in the afternoon,” he said.

He was booked on an afternoon flight so he could host his annual Archbishop’s Charity Dinner that evening.

“I must admit that I was shocked as my thoughts went back to what had happened in St. Jean-sur-Richelieu earlier in the week; that this kind of thing doesn’t happen in Ottawa was the thought that came to my mind,” he said. “We went to see the news on a television in the rectory and the horror began to sink in.”

The archbishop reflected on radical Islam possibly motivating the Ottawa killer as well as the man in St. Jean-sur-Richelieu, who killed one soldier and injured another with his car.

“I sense a great sadness at the lack of rootedness of these younger men that leads them to seek an ideal in fanaticism and hatred rather than in love and healthy relationships,” the archbishop said. “How we desperately need the new evangelization to touch the hearts of the young of our country.”

Prendergast arrived at the Ottawa diocesan centre just before 4 p.m. where he convened a meeting to decide whether to go ahead with the charity dinner.

“In favour of going forward was the positive purpose of the fundraiser; against were several factors: how can one celebrate when people are traumatized, some are unable to come because of the lockdown still on or the traffic congestion,” he said. “In the end the painful decision was to cancel.”

“Something good that came out of it was the delivery of the food that had been prepared to the Shepherds of Good Hope to aid some of our inner-city needy,” he said.

In a news release Oct. 22 announcing the dinner’s cancellation, Prendergast said: “I want to express my thanks to the many sponsors, faithful of our diocese, and our friends who were planning to attend this evening to support two organizations who are working to support affordable housing in our community: Bruyère Village and the Multifaith Housing Initiative.”

He also thanked the staff in the diocese and the Ottawa Event and Conference Centre who had worked so hard to prepare the dinner. He also thanked the many sponsors
“Let us offer our prayers to God in support of those who have been most affected by today’s events. As we do, let us also thank God for the beauty of our country and for the blessings of peace and security which are the blessings bestowed upon Canadians,” he said.

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