Pope, church leaders grieve after Pittsburgh synagogue carnage

(Photo:REUTERS / Finbarr O'Reilly)Israelis attend the funeral of Aryeh Kopinsky, Calman Levine and Avraham Shmuel Goldberg in Jerusalem November 18, 2014. Two Palestinians armed with a meat cleaver and a gun killed four worshippers, including Kopinsky, Levine and Goldberg in a Jerusalem synagogue on Tuesday before being shot dead by police, the deadliest such incident in six years in the holy city amid a surge in religious conflict.

Grieving with Pittsburgh's Jewish community on Sunday Pope Francis said that all of humanity were wounded as well as those directly affected by the "terrible attack" at a synagogue in the U.S.. City that left 11 people dead.


World Council of Churches general secretary Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit also expressed heartfelt sympathies to the Tree of Life synagogue and to the city of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, saying, "Antisemitism is a sin against God and humanity."

Comments from the U.S. President Donald Trump who initially strongly condemned the act and anti-Semitism ,but later said it might not have happened if there were armed guards in the synagogue, drew an angry response.

"All of us, in reality, are wounded by this inhuman act of violence," Francis said, Crux reported.

"May the Lord help us to extinguish the outbreaks of hate that develop in our societies, reinforcing the sense of humanity, respect for life, moral and civil values and the holy fear of God, who is love and the father of all."

A man named as Robert Bowers, 46, surrendered to authorities after the Oct. 27 shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue.

Legal authorities said Bowers made anti-Semitic statements during the shooting and targeted Jews in posts on social media, according to a federal law enforcement official.


His motive was unknown, but the Jewish publication Forward's Peter Beinart wrote in an opinion piece, "Why did Robert Bowers murder eleven people yesterday at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh? We're unlikely to ever fully grasp his motives. But he was enraged, it sppears, by the fact that synagogues were participating in a program run by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society that dedicated special Shabbat services to the plight of refugees"

Immediately after the atrocity, Pittsbugh's Catholic bishop, David Zubik decried "anti-Jewish bigotry" as a "terrible sin."

"As we pray for peace in our communities and comfort for the grieving, we must put prayer into action by loving our neighbors and working to make 'Never again!' a reality," the Pittsburgh prelate said in a statement.

The head of the United States Conference of Catholics Bishops, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, also issued a statement of solidarity with the Jewish community and pleaded with public officials to confront "the plague of gun violence."

"To our brothers and sisters of the Jewish community, we stand with you," DiNardo said.

"We condemn all acts of violence and hate and yet again, call on our nation and public officials to confront the plague of gun violence. Violence as a response to political, racial, or religious differences must be confronted with all possible effort. God asks nothing less of us."

The day of the shooting Bowers was charged by federal prosecutors with 11 counts of using a firearm to commit murder and multiple counts of two hate crimes.

He was also charged with obstruction of exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death and obstruction of exercise of religious beliefs resulting in bodily injury to a public safety officer, authorities said, citing a criminal complaint, which is sealed.

If convicted of a hate crime Bowers could face the death penalty, a measure to which the Catholic Church and many strains of Judaism officially oppose.

The WCC's Tveit said in a letter of condolence, "We convey our grief and condolences to the families, the synagogue, and the city of Pittsburgh for the shocking violence and loss of life," Tveit said.


Among the wounded were four police officers responding to the incident.

"We are conscious of both the short-term trauma and the long-term grief this situation poses for you," Tveit said. "We pray that the God of life will lend you strength and wisdom and will bless the synagogue and all of Pittsburgh with comfort and consolation, healing and help in the days ahead."

The attack is believed to be the worst antisemitic violence in recent U.S. history.

"The WCC denounces all violence based on religion, ethnicity, race or any other dimension of a person's identity or belonging" Tveit stressed, "and this attack upon a Jewish community in a place of prayer and during a moment of celebration of their religious identity is an appalling violation of our shared humanity."

U.S. President Donald Trump mourned the dead and forcefully condemned anti-Semitism after the mass shooting.

Shortly after returning to Washington late Saturday, Trump ordered flags at federal buildings throughout the country to be flown at half-staff until October 31 in "solemn respect" for the victims.

But he was attacked by members of the Jewish community, with his words to reporters, "This is a case where, if they had an armed guard inside, they might have been able to stop him immediately."

Trump said. "Maybe there would have been nobody killed, except for him, frankly. So, it's a very, very - a very difficult situation."

Jane Eisner, the editor-in-chief of the Jewish publication Forward wrote angrily, "It is time for the Jewish community in all its many facets to confront the complicity of the man in the White House, and all who support him — with money, votes, political expertise and moral cover.

"Because if you excuse the radical divisiveness spawned by this man, you are part of the problem. If you ignore his hateful tweets because you like his policies on Israel, you are part of the problem. If you silently cheer at the fascist-like rallies before only adoring audiences because you've got a few more dollars in your pocket, you are part of the problem.

"If you want an America where every school, church, synagogue and mosque looks like a National Rifle Association convention, then you are part of the problem."

She headed her column, "What has Trump done to us, America?"

Eisner said, "I have one daughter who is a freelance journalist and has reported from all sorts of dangerous places in the Middle East and Africa.

"I have another daughter who is a nurse practitioner and right now is delivering health care to the Rohingya, whose plight is creating the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world.

"And yet today, the daughter I am most worried about is the one in Brooklyn, who takes her children to synagogue on Shabbat as often as she can."


The secretary general of World Evangelical Alliance Bishop Efraim Tendero who expressed WEA's heartfelt sorrow over the tragic event in Pittsburgh said, "We are deeply troubled by what has happened at the Tree of Life Synagogue."

He said, "We are concerned about the increasingly polarized and hate-filled culture in many nations and regions of the world that not only marginalizes minorities but goes as far as encouraging violence against those they perceive to be different from themselves."

"We believe that while we may at times disagree with people on matters of faith, opinion or tradition, every person is created by God and has inherent dignity that deserves respect. Jesus called us to be peacemakers, and in this spirit, we call on people of faith and any person of goodwill to not remain silent but speak out in opposition wherever and whenever hatred or violence is encouraged."

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