More than 500 Houstonians of all faiths gathered as one big family at City Hall plaza Thursday night for a candelight vigil to honor victims of the Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting. Men, women and children of all races and colors stood amid many Houston Sikhs as Mayor Annise Parker asked all communities to pledge to not let such terrorist acts change our identity, culture and beliefs.
U.S. Rep. Al Green elicited applause when he asked the crowd that if we are not safe in our religious place of worship, where are we safe? He further said that his heart aches to believe that if it happens to a Sikh it could happen to a Christian or a Muslim, Hindu or a Jew and therefore tolerance of various religions for the sake of humanity is crucial.
It was an emotional evening as attendees with tears in their eyes paid respect to those who lost their lives.
The vigil highlighted once again that Houston is a melting pot with a diverse culture. "I admired the way that so many religious leaders came and spoke on behalf of the victims and their families. I thought Mayor Parker's speech was extremely respectful and was a true honor to the victims and the families," said Viswa Subbaraman, artistic director and founder of Opera Vista.
The evening, organized by Sikh community volunteer Bobby Singh, also brought words of condolence and hope for the future from Elliot Gershenson, president and CEO of Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston, Baha’i: Ajit Giani of Houston Baha’i Community, Venerable Hung I of Jade Buddha Temple, the Rev. Betty Adam of Christ Church Cathedral, Acharya Praveen Gulati of Hindus for Greater Houston, Rabbi Lyon of Congregation Beth Israel, Imam Wazir Ali of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston, Bhai Sahib Manjit of the Sikh Community of Houston and Sikh community member Manmeet Likhari.
The ceremony concluded with chantings and prayers from The Guru Granth Sahib or Adi Granth (the religious text of Sikhism) as attendees each lit a candle and passed the flame around until the plaza flickered with light.
It was an emotional evening as attendees with tears in their eyes paid respect to those who lost their lives in a Gurdwara (Sikh Temple). At the same time, the evening affirmed the belief in the goodness of humanity.
Ruchi Mukherjee is a lifestyle feature journalist for TV Asia and host of Lights Camera Action, an online magazine that covers Houston Indo-American society news.