Just one month after hosting a vigil following a mass shooting in Las Vegas, members of the USC community again gathered under the same roof on Monday to mourn the 26 killed and over 20 injured in Sunday’s church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Tex., as of Monday night.
Three dozen USC students, staff and community members, holding candles that shined brightly throughout the vigil, gathered in Office of Religious Life’s courtyard for a ceremony that began just before sunset.
The vigil was held to give the community a place to meditate in “an interfaith expression of solidarity with all those affected by the tragedy,” according to the invite post from the office.
Those in attendance remembered the lives lost after suspect Devin Patrick Kelley shot church-goers in a rural Texas town on Sunday.
“My hope is that none of us are comfortable with this,” said Varun Soni, the dean of religious life. “I hope we don’t let this define us as a country. I hope we don’t just comfort the afflicted, we afflict the comfortable.”
Referencing to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the Denver movie theater attack, the Orlando nightclub massacre and the Las Vegas concert shooting, Soni expressed his hope for political action.
Reverend Jim Burklo, the senior associate dean of religious life, took note of the striking similarity the vigil had with the Las Vegas vigil, held after the Oct. 2 shooting. Burklo said it was important to hold a ceremony for this attack because of something an undergraduate student said to him last month at the Las Vegas vigil. Burklo said the student told him she came to the vigil because she had to do something out of her routine to mark the significance of the day.
“Too many people treated today like it was a normal day,” Burklo said. “We need to do something to mark this is not normal. That’s why I came today, and that’s why you all came.”
Burklo offered a message of empowerment and told the community it will take individual action from everyone to bring about change.
“Guns do not cast fear,” Burklo said. “New laws might help, but they alone do not cast fear. It’s going to take something from within all of us to cast out the fear that comes in times like this.”
Community members from Texas offered their prayers and thanks to those who came to show their support. Bekah Estrada, a Christian life intern and Kilgore chapel coordinator, said she grew up in a small town in Texas and that the pictures from Sutherland Springs looked eerily familiar.
“I hope we respond not in fear, but that we respond in love,” Estrada said.
The ceremony concluded with Burklo offering a prayer for all the victims around the country and the world who were affected, calling for political action and a “bell of prayer through all faiths.”
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated for clarity.