Thursday, November 19, 2015

While this new Faith Under Fire column features people of faith being persecuted, this week our focus turns to the events in Paris, France, where this author traveled within a day of the horrific, tragic violence of the murder of 129 innocent people. The terrorists who killed these people and injured others here in Paris are similar to their Islamic State counterparts who are killing Christians and Yazidis in the Mideast in places like Syria and Iraq.

Upon learning of the tragedy and knowing that my co-pastor and ministerial colleague, the Rev. Dimas Salaberrios, was on a book tour of Europe for his new book, “Street God,” I decided the morning after the attacks that I would travel to Paris and join him and his family. Paris, known as the City of Lights, is now the City of Fear. As I arrived at the Paris airport one day after the shootings, the entire city was enveloped in a toxic mixture of fear, grief and anxiety. As I entered the subway, it was eerily quiet - no talking, no laughing, no smiles, just many sober and somber expressions. Paris is a city in full scale grief.

Our small team Sunday night visited three of the Candlelight Memorials that have been established at each of the sites where shootings and bombings occurred. They are very sad places - hundreds of people with many weeping openly; tears flowing with what seems no ending. People here in Paris are walking in stunned silence.

As we visited our last site at one of the restaurants where 18 people were gunned down, we stood by at the edge of the hundreds of candles and bouquet of flowers that had been left on the front gate. I spoke out in a loud voice to the crowd: “People of Paris, we came from America to support you, to tell you that we love you and that we stand in solidarity with you-you are not forgotten!” With that, a voice behind me shouted out, “There is a man with a gun!” Pandemonium broke out - people running in every direction; I was knocked over into the burning candles and stacks of flowers. As I stood up, people were screaming in fear, fleeing from the memorial site. Police arrived and, as we ran, directed us to the edge of the street close to the building: the police then stood in the middle of the street with automatic assault weapons drawn, hoping to get a clear shot at any gunman.

At the end of the block, I turned into another street, hoping to be out of range of any shooting or bullets. As I stopped and gathered myself, I saw a group of people openly weeping - they had been traumatized again, thinking that, they too, would join the 129 who had been murdered just 48 hours previously. It was an experience one would never want to relive.

Every Parisian we have met has thanked us for coming. We tell them that we came simply to minister to people and to pray for people affected by the tragedy -to share the love and grace of God. The frightened people of Paris, unequivocally reply, “I cannot believe that you came just for us; thank you for coming from America.”

Sadly, the City of Lights is now dark with fear and anxiety.

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