MILWAUKEE – The killing of six Sikhs Aug. 5 at their temple in Oak Creek brought an outpouring of spiritual support from leaders in the Catholic community, as well as a call for the Catholic community to examine violence in the culture.538People gather at a candlelight vigil in Cathedral Square in downtown Milwaukee after a mass shooting Aug. 5 at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek. A shooter opened fire during services at the temple, killing six people and critically wounding at least three others, police and hospital officials said. The gunman, who was shot and killed by police, was later identified by authorities as Wade Michael Page. (Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson)

Assuring the Sikh community “that our prayers go out in solidarity with you,” Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki said Aug. 6, “There’s an aspect of we want to do something to help ease the pain of that community; one of the things that immediately comes to mind is prayer so we turn our hearts and attention to God. We pray for God’s consoling and healing to be there for the Sikh community.”

In an interview with your Catholic Herald, Archbishop Listecki said he had just returned from St. Lawrence, St. Lawrence, where he had celebrated Mass, led a Eucharistic procession and enjoyed a picnic dinner with parishioners as part of their annual feast day commemoration when he heard the news.

“I was totally shocked that anyone would come in and do such an act of violence, but also to do it within the context of church, temple, synagogue, mosque,” he said,  noting the contrast between the celebration of which he had just been a part and the killings. “Here are people coming together to worship God, and what happens? They’re confronted by evil. This tells us that we have to be mindful of evil in the world.”

Archbishop Listecki said that people should expect to be safe in places where they worship.

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“There’s no threat from people of faith, but there is the threat from those who suddenly would want to invade that sanctuary,” he said. “That’s what I felt — that a sanctuary had been invaded.”

Fight evil, resist violence

Bishop Richard J. Sklba, long active in interreligious and ecumenical affairs locally, nationally and internationally, explained that the dagger is a religious symbol for the Sikh community.

“And it is a symbol of their commitment to fight evil and to resist violence,” the bishop told your Catholic Herald Aug. 6.

Bishop Sklba recalled that when Pope Benedict XVI visited the United States in April 2008, he, as then-chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committee on ecumenical and religious affairs, welcomed the pope to a meeting with interreligious leaders. But the Sikhs were not among them, the bishop said, because the FBI would not allow anyone with weapons near the head of a sovereign state.

“So, because of government regulations, we were forced to take them off the list; that was a sadness, particularly because of the symbolism of the sword,” the bishop said. “And that’s what makes this all the more ironic — and tragic. The very people that are committed to fight and resist evil have become themselves a target in a twisted fashion of the same evil.”

Violence is everywhere

Bishop Sklba said Catholics should consider several things as a result of what happened at the Sikh temple.

“We, as Catholics with our commitment to global solidarity, because we are Catholic, there is a universalism in our faith that we who are committed to global solidarity will be ever more conscious of the need to respect all religious traditions throughout the whole world,” he said.

The bishop said that, “because of our strong sacramental tradition,” the killings should serve as an opportunity for renewal of respect for all holy places and “every place that is deemed holy by those who gather.”

Bishop Sklba said that he hoped the entire community would examine “the violence that is woven into our culture, entertainment and society.”

“And look again at this gun control issue. It is not the solution to every issue, but it is a piece of the solution. And just as worship sites (are posting signs) all over are saying, ‘Guns are not allowed here,’ there’s more at stake societally than putting the statement on the door, than just protecting ourselves,” he said. “It’s a witness to the larger community that there’s something wrong with all the gun-toting that people are espousing and attempting to protect.”

End ‘culture of death’

In his Aug. 9 “Herald of Hope” column for the Milwaukee Catholic Herald, auxiliary Bishop Donald J. Hying  wrote, “ … the culture of death will continue to flourish as long as we collectively allow it by remaining indifferent, by feeding it our entertainment dollars, by accepting violence as normal, by not articulating and proclaiming the Gospel of Life.  Peace, respect, reconciliation and justice are hard work and can only be sustained by a proper understanding of the human person as worthy of absolute respect, as the proper end of all human activity.”

In an Aug. 6 statement, the School Sisters of St. Francis, whose international headquarters are in Milwaukee, stated, “We pray for their (Sikh community) healing in body, mind, and spirit. We also offer our prayers of gratitude for the first responders who selflessly made the safety, health, and well-being of their neighbors their first priority.”

While shooting a police officer who had responded to the 911 calls, the shooter, Wade Michael Page, 40, was killed by another police officer.