The local Sikh community gathered in a Jewish sanctuary for a memorial service Wednesday night to mourn their six peers killed in the Wisconsin temple shooting Sunday and to find comfort in the hundreds of civic and religious leaders who turned out to express solidarity.
Mayor Julián Castro shared a podium with megachurch minister Max Lucado and Imam Omar Shakir, sending a united message at Temple Beth-El that this city's Sikh community can count on their loyal friendship.
“Tonight, we gather in a spirit of humanity, understanding that we are all part of the human family (and) that all of us, whichever God we worship, have the same values (and) have the same worth as human beings,” Castro said. Sikhs “have been wonderful contributors to the prosperity and progress — the beauty of San Antonio.”
Seated on the front row was Lucado, the noted minister from Oak Hills Church and internationally known writer. His appearance was a rare display by an evangelical pastor whose ranks infrequently take part in local interfaith events.
“On behalf of many evangelical Christians not just in San Antonio but all over the country, we extend to our Sikh neighbors and friends our deepest condolences,” he said. “We decry with you this act of violence. ... And may our presence today be heard by the Almighty as a prayer for peace. May he give strength to those who protect us, lead us and guide us.”
Audience attire ranged from business suits, first-responder uniforms and priestly collars to bearded Sikh men with folded turbans and Sikh women in colorful kameez, a traditional style of dress. The service joined others nationwide that were called for by Sikh leaders in the aftermath of Sunday's shooting in a Milwaukee suburb.
In native Punjabi, Sikhs led prayers, chants and hymns and played music on a harmonium — a small keyboard — and a small pair of traditional drums.
Little mention was made of the gunman, Wade Michael Page, other than disbelief at his apparent motive as a white supremacist. Instead, there was a recitation of victims' names and a moment of silence. There was prayer for the injured, including police Lt. Brian Murphy, who took nine bullets and is credited with preventing further bloodshed.
The evening served also as a platform for Sikh leaders to bolster awareness of their 500-year-old faith, an effort they took up in earnest after 9-11 along with American Muslims. Their faith, introduced by Indian gurus amid religious persecution, espouses interreligious appreciation, personal hard work and ethical behavior, human and gender equality, and global compassion.
Such ideals found kinship with America's founding principles, including religious freedom, they said. That a house of worship would be so vulnerable to a horrific attack lingered as an unsettled fact for many speakers Wednesday, including Police Chief William McManus.
“That incident rocked our foundation and makes us wonder about how safe we are,” he said from the podium. “We cannot stop living our lives. We cannot stop being free and open. If we do, then they win.”
To end the service, the audience held lit candles in a sign of unity.