As a clearer picture about the Parliament Hill shooting takes shape, the Anglican Journal has asked leadership within the Anglican Church of Canada to reflect on the role of the church in troubled times.
When asked about the role of the church in situations of national tragedy, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said that the churches’ primary response must be to call the nation to prayer. He went on to note that in this particular situation, churches should also strengthen ties to other faiths. “I think there is an opportunity for churches to reach out to people of other faith traditions…I think lots of Muslims are feeling pretty vulnerable right now.”
Hours after the tragic news that a Canadian soldier, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, had been shot while on honour guard duty at the National War Memorial, Hiltz issued a statement asking Anglicans to pray for him, for his loved ones, for the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces and for the military chaplains who minister to them.
“Pray also for the perpetrators of these awful attacks and for their families as well,” Hiltz said in his statement. The gunman, who was shot dead by Parliamentary Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers, has been identified as 32-year-old Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a Canadian with a criminal record in both Quebec and British Columbia. Zehaf-Bibeau’s attack came shortly after the killing on Monday of 53-year-old Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent by Martin Couture-Rouleau, who struck him with a car in St.-Jean-Sur-Richelieu.
Regarding how Canada should react to the perpetrators of this violence, Hiltz stressed the importance of a thoughtful response. “It is theologically tragic when people are ‘radicalized’ in such a way as to completely change their outlook, their disposition of heart, their respect for the dignity of human life,” Hiltz told the Journal. “We need to get at what is it that is moving some young people to be drawn into that kind of a way of being in the world…What’s going on inside the souls of young people that is drawing them to such extremes?”
But the primate also spoke optimistically about how Canadians from all walks of life have responded to the situation. “It is a moment, I think, when the country is drawn together around its ideals, its values and its commitment to be a responsible partner in the nations that are allied in the interests of peace.”
Reflecting on how other soldiers are responding to the deaths of Cirillo and Vincent, the Bishop Ordinary to the Canadian Forces, Peter Coffin, emphasized the professionalism of Canadian troops. “[They] know that they stand in danger. In our country it’s not really expected, but when something like this happens, they just react with the professionalism that is so characteristic of their work.”
However, Coffin was also clear about the grief that soldiers feel when a comrade falls, noting that “Military units are very close, and what happens to one happens to all. That closeness is such that the pain is widely shared and carried together.”
When asked if this event is likely to change anything about the way the Canadian Forces operate, he said, “People are always aware that this can happen, and I don’t think there will be any changes.” He added that “our Parliament Hill has always been an open place, and we don’t want it to become a fortress.”
Coffin noted that “every now and then I see the press talking about panic somewhere. I don’t see any panic here, just deep disappointment.”
Meanwhile, various Muslim groups in Canada have spoken up to denounce the attacks and to express their condolences to the families of Cirillo and Vincent.
The Calgary-based Muslims Against Terrorism and the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada issued a statement “strongly” condemning the attacks in Ottawa. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families,” said the statement. “This is a very sad and disturbing situation for all Canadians…The Canadian Muslim community stand with the Canadian government and supports all the efforts to identify and capture the terrorists.”
The Muslim Council of Greater Hamilton has invited grieving members of the community to come to any of their mosques on Friday to hear sermons in honour of Cirillo.
Police in Toronto and Ottawa have offered an enhanced police presence at mosques to offer protection against the possibility of a violent backlash resulting from the attacks.