San Bernardino Bishop: ‘We Do Not Want Evil to Win Over Our Hearts’

‘We cannot go back. We can’t forget. Yet we pray. And we seek healing and strength,’ Bishop Gerald Barnes said at an interfaith gathering this week.

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San Bernardino, Calif. — Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders offered prayers and comfort at an interreligious gathering in San Bernardino on Monday in the aftermath of the mass shooting there last week.

“We know that we cannot go back to the way things were before this tragedy occurred,” Bishop Gerald Barnes of San Bernardino said Dec. 7. “We cannot go back. We can’t forget. Yet we pray. And we seek healing and strength.”

“We want what is good for our community. We do not want evil to win over our hearts, our pain to paralyze our future,” he said. “We do not want our hearts to turn against any person, any race, any religion.”

The bishop was one of several speakers at an interreligious prayer vigil at San Bernardino’s Our Lady of the Rosary Cathedral. The gathering aimed to comfort friends and families of the victims, first responders and other civic leaders affected by the Dec. 2 attack that killed 14 at a health-care center in San Bernardino.

FBI officials say the attack’s perpetrators were Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, a married couple. The couple fled the scene of the attack and were later killed by police. Officials believe the perpetrators planned the attack up to a year in advance.

Malik made a Facebook post pledging allegiance to the Islamic State, though there are indications the two were radicalized before the group came to prominence. The FBI is investigating any ties with terrorist organizations and has not yet found evidence they acted under orders from any group, The New York Times reports.

At Monday’s interreligious gathering, Imam Aslam Abdullah said that “every life is precious.”

“We believe that each one of us has a right to live the way God wants us to live. We believe that life must be protected. And as people belonging to different religions, we hold that. Life is precious,” he said, according to the Los Angeles archdiocese newspaper The Tidings.

The imam said the killers wanted people of different religions to hate each other and to be disunited. He said the killers failed because “we substitute love.”

Bishop Barnes welcomed family and friends of the victims, as well as first responders, civic leaders and their families.

“You have witnessed this horrible tragedy, and our prayers are for your healing, and our prayers are in thanksgiving to you, for your commitment to protect and to serve,” he told the first responders.

The bishop acknowledged that those affected will respond differently.

“For some of us, it will take much longer to heal. And we respect where each person is in their pain, in their anger, in their sorrow, in their confusion.”

The bishop invited attendees to be open to God.

“Let your hearts and your minds be open to God’s message for you, for all of us, for our communities and our families,” he said. “Be open to where our God, a God of mercy and love, leads us.”

Bishop Barnes encouraged those gathered to be “committed workers for justice and peace” and “strong witnesses to God’s presence and mercy in our homes, in our community and in our world.”