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Ottawa prayer breakfast honours first responders

By Deborah Gyapong

Canadian Catholic News

REINSTATEMENT CEREMONY - Prime Minister Stephen Harper, joined by General Thomas Lawson, Chief of the Defence Staff, attends the reinstatement ceremony of the Sentry Program at the National War Memorial two days after Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was gunned down at his post. On Oct. 31 an Ottawa Civic Prayer Breakfast paid tribute to first responders and gave Ottawans a chance to thank police officers and paramedics and to pray for them. (PMO/Jason Ransom)

OTTAWA (CCN) - Hundreds of Ottawa pastors, business people and political staffers paid tribute to first responders Oct. 31 at the fifth Ottawa Civic Prayer Breakfast.

It was the first large-scale gathering prayer gathering since the Oct. 22 shootings, when Michael Zehaf-Bibeau shot Cpl. Nathan Cirillo at the National War Memorial, then rampaged through the halls of Centre Block before being killed by Parliament Hill security. The breakfast, themed "Who is my neighbour," gave Ottawans a chance to thank police officers and paramedics and to pray for them.

"Last week there was unspeakable and unheard of violence in Canada's Capital - from the sacred War Memorial where a sentry was cut down at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to the Hall of Honour under the Peace Tower where the perpetrator was killed but minutes later," said Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast before leading an opening prayer and blessing the food. "But we were also witnesses to neighbourliness and heroism as people attempted CPR on Corporal Nathan Cirillo and first-responders sought to ensure public safety, risking their lives in the process."

"Into this context, we come to pray to God for our country and our fellow citizens, to pray for the families of the soldiers randomly killed by men who seem to have suffered mental illness, were heirs of unstable family relationships and led directionless lives that sought meaning in violence," he said. "And in this context we turn to God's word for comfort, support and challenge."

"We recall the double commandment of Jesus that we love God with all our beings - with all that is in us unto the deepest recesses of our hearts - and our neighbour as ourselves," he said. "We pray in gratitude for our first-responders, for our civic leaders, for all who wish us well and work for the common good," the archbishop said.

The morning featured an interview with Ottawa police officer Joseph Brownrigg who shared how his work exposed him daily to horrors in life most people might experience once or twice in their lives: people in distress, people hurting, people dying and people who have died.

He said what he saw used to make him angry. Outraged questions such as "How could you live like this?" "How can you deal drugs?" might go through his mind. But after a personal encounter with Jesus Christ and getting to know him, "people no longer see anger, they see love" when they meet him on the job. Whether among his co-workers or the people he meets through his police work, Brownrigg said the best way "for me to be a witness is by my behaviour."

He said he "tries to remain a light in the world" even if his circumstances are challenging. "People see that hope in you and ask, "Why are you do happy? You have no reason to be happy." Brownrigg said he welcomed those opportunities to share the hope that is in him. He urged people in the gathering to continue to pray for first responders because of the dangerous, ambiguous and challenging circumstances they face every day.

Twenty-six first responders have taken their lives this year, 19 in Ontario, he said. Keynote Speaker Lorna Dueck, host of the weekly television program Context, and a newspaper columnist, spoke of how God "goes into physical time, space and story" and to be active in our world, including on Oct. 22, when Barbara Winters dropped her briefcase and ran toward the gunfire to try to resuscitate Cpl. Cirillo and told him he was loved, that his family loved him, that his military family loved him. God was also there with the people at the Ottawa Mission, who had given a bed to Zehaf-Bibeau out of their love for God, she said.

"Our lives are far more than issues, than technical solutions can solve," she said. She spoke of how so many need a human touch of love, such as the 30,000 children waiting for adoption. Dueck said she herself was adopted into a loving family at the age of two. The shooter Zehaf-Bibeau had "a well-documented history of feeling guilty over sin."

Yet he missed that "great gift expressed in God's love," that unique story that followers of God can bring that "we can be reconciled to God" through Jesus Christ.

"Today you will move out and touch someone with God's love," she said. "We are the neighbour that has to teach that God loves people, people like Cpl. Cirillo, people like Michael Zehaf-Bibeau."

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