Yonge St. churches gathered for an multi-faith prayer service at St. Edward the Confessor Parish Apr. 27. The church is located just blocks from the van attack that killed 10 pedestrians on Yonge St. Photo courtesy of the Archdiocese of Toronto

Overflow crowd mourns victims at interfaith prayer service

By 
  • April 27, 2018

More and more, people question the role that prayer can bring in the face of tragedy. We hear it after every massacre in the United States and elsewhere in the world when people say we don’t want prayer, we want action on whatever was the source of the tragedy.

It’s a question being asked in Toronto in the wake of the April 23 van attack that killed 10 pedestrians walking on Yonge Street.

But you can’t discount the value of prayer, says Fr. Pat O’Dea, pastor at St. Edward the Confessor Parish. The north Toronto church, located just blocks from the horrific attack that killed 10 pedestrians walking on Yonge Street, was the site of a multi-faith service April 26 that saw an overflow crowd pack its 750 seats. 

“Sometimes people will say what message can we get out of a prayer service,” O’Dea said before hosting a service for the victims of the carnage. “I’m hoping it will bring some inner peace and comfort and the assurance of faith that God is with us.”

The service was organized by the various churches in the vicinity of the attack that claimed 10 lives and injured 14 others. Religious leaders from these churches, as well as Cardinal Thomas Collins, led the way as the pews filled and an overflow area was set up in the foyer as mourners came to remember and try to make sense of the tragedy.

Holding white candles in the darkened church, mourners observed a moment of silence before the opening hymn, “O Lord, Hear my Prayer!” 

“This is our neighbourhood,” said Rev. Matthew Sams, pastor at Willowdale Presbyterian Church which overlooks the police station and fire hall of the first responders who were quickly on the scene. “We gather to make sense of this senseless maiming and killing.

“You are here because you are not indifferent to someone else’s loss of life.” 

Sams said there will be no immediate relief for the community, but the service allows us “to affirm we are not indifferent, we love and what happened wasn’t right.”

Rev. Leonard Leader of St. George on Yonge Anglican Church told the crowd that when such a horrific event occurs, we can wonder where is God. We are like Thomas, who doubted Christ had risen, but like Thomas learns, we must have faith that “Jesus is the way,” said Leader.

“Let us be encouraged by the love we share, and in the love of Christ,” he said.

An added feature to the service was a smaller version of the memorial wall for the victims that has been set up on Yonge Street. A mini-version graced the front of the altar and those in attendance were invited to add their own note to the wall. There were also 10 lit candles at the front of the church to represent the deceased.

The events of the day hit home in more ways for the St. Edward community. Among the first victims identified were people with close ties to the parish. Betty Forsyth was remembered as “94 years young” and full of life, not ready to leave this world. And victim Anne Marie D’Amico was remembered as members of the school community prayed for her and wished the best to her family, including her sister Frances, a Grade 7 teacher at St. Edward the Confessor Catholic School.

The alleged driver of the van, 25-year-old Alek Minassian, has been charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder.

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