[The Episcopal News] Tyre Nichols and other victims of violence – and especially of the recent mass shootings in Monterey Park in the Diocese of Los Angeles – were remembered at an emotional Jan. 29 multilingual multimedia prayer vigil at the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour in San Gabriel, attended by Bishop John Harvey Taylor, members of the diocesan community and civic leaders.
The Rev. Katherine Feng, who has lived and worked in Monterey Park, expressed grief and outrage at the Jan. 21 mass shooting at the Star Ballroom, which killed 11 and wounded another nine people on a day planned for celebrating the lunar new year.
“It was supposed to be a festive day with hope of a new year and new opportunities. Instead, [nearly] a dozen precious lives were violently taken away,” Feng said, preaching in Mandarin and English.
“More than a dozen people suffered from the pain of gunshot wounds and the fear of being so close to death on that day. Many people grieved for losing their loved ones in this tragedy, and many more felt sad, angry, and terrified about this cruel crime.”
The Rev. Hsin-Fen Chang, vicar of St. Thomas Church in Hacienda Heights, officiated at the candlelight vigil, where prayers were offered in Cantonese, Taiwanese, Mandarin, and English.
Musical accompaniment included cellist Dustin Seo, associate artistic director of the Los Angeles Street Symphony, along with Yan Yuzhuang playing the erhu, a Chinese two-stringed fiddle. Members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Chorus performed “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”
Gloria Fanchiang, a Los Angeles second-generation Taiwanese songwriter, producer, recording artist and worship leader, also performed an original song, “The God Who Sees Us,” which laments anti-Asian hatred.
Internationally acclaimed artist He Qi, who has served as artist-in-residence at the Claremont School of Theology and Fuller Seminary, said he brought original artwork, including a depiction of Jesus praying at the Garden of Gethsemane, in appreciation “of the worship today.
“My heart was broken,” at the news of the shooting, he told The Episcopal News. “The Chinese community is very, very sad. We have to stop the shooting; we have to stop the violence.
“This is the first time I stopped to realize how many incidents there have been,” he added, referring to a litany of prayers offered for the victims in 72 incidents of mass gun violence in the last decade, including:
- 6 dead at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin (2012);
- 12 dead at a Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, Colorado (2012);
- 13 dead at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., (2013);
- 9 dead at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina (2015).
- 16 dead at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California, (2015);
- 50 dead at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando, Florida (2016);
- 59 dead at a Las Vegas, Nevada outdoor concert (2017);
- 27 dead at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas (2017);
- 17 dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida (2017);
- 11 dead at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (2018);
- 13 dead at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, California (2018);
- 13 dead at a municipal building in Virginia Beach, Virginia (2019);
- 22 dead at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas (2019);
- 10 dead at Tops Friendly Supermarket in Buffalo, New York (2022);
- 22 dead at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas (2022);
- 7 dead at two farms in Half Moon Bay, California (2023)
Taylor also referred to the staggering list of shootings and to Fanchiang’s song while offering hope to participants: “We are fashioned to be as close to one another as muscle and bone. We are the people – each of us – made by and seen by the God who loves us. Tonight, the voices and the instruments have blended beautifully, and the prayers have been raised in unison and yet the longer part of our service was this litany of failure.”
Referring to the candles held by participants, he added: “So, we received the light tonight. We bear the light in our hands and our hearts. Let us take the light anew into the gathering darkness and resolve to let our growing intolerance of the continued failure, to transform us into architects by word and action of a better and a safer world, for all of God’s people.”
The Rev. Jeff Thornberg, rector of Church of Our Saviour, welcomed Monterey Park Mayor José Sánchez, Pasadena City Councilmember Jason Lyon, San Gabriel City Councilmember Denise Menchaca, and San Gabriel police officers, who attended the service.
Feng recalled immigrating to Monterey Park in the 1990s and helping to welcome other newly arrived people.
“For the first generation of immigrants, Monterey Park is a place that brings back so many warm memories of their hometown,” she told about one hundred people gathered for the vigil.
“To me and other immigrants who just arrived in this new country, the familiar language, food, living environment and social communication within the Chinese community in Monterey Park have largely relieved our panic and anxiety in a completely new place with a language barrier,” she said.
“Sharing a common culture and similar immigration experience, a harmonious relationship with neighbors and the friendly interaction and kind assistance among members in this community have greatly helped my family and other immigrants in getting rid of the loneliness of being away from our motherland, and in gradually adapting into the new social environment and starting a new chapter of our life,” she added.
Anti-Asian sentiment, which has exploded since the pandemic, complicated grief and shock at hearing news of the shooting, Feng said.
Because “Asian Americans living in the United States had become scapegoats … when the horrifying shooting happened in the Chinese community on such an important day and the shooter was at large, many of us felt unsafe and worried the shooter killed people for racial or some other political reasons, which would lead to more complex and painful social impacts and political disputes.”
When the shooter was identified as Huu Can Tran, 72, of Hemet, California, also a person of Chinese descent, it did not lessen the grief and trauma, she said.
On the contrary, “my heart ached terribly for the evil crime … which cost so many innocent lives.” Another shooting Jan. 23 in Half Moon Bay in northern California, in which seven were killed, only added to the grief and anxiety, she said.
Healthaffairs.org cited a 77% jump in anti-Asian hate crimes from 2019 to 2022, as documented by the FBI. The online journal also noted that “such crime statistics are likely vastly underreported.”
Feng also cited the beating death of Tyre Nichols, 29, an African American, Jan. 7 by Memphis police officers who had stopped him for what they considered to be reckless driving. He died three days later.
“These shootings, along with the death of Tyre Nichols caused by police brutality in Memphis, and the list of victims … remind us that, as survivors of the pandemic, while we are slowly recovering from its damage to our health, economy and society, other issues such as gun violence, racial discrimination and social injustice still pose a deadly threat to all of us as a human family,” Feng said.
Recalling Fanchiang’s song, Feng added, “The God who sees us, is the God of all people. Let’s take God’s hand and each other’s hand, [and] let the love of Christ which brings us healing and hope, bind us together, and let the Holy Spirit move and guide us.”
Ada Fu, a member of the Chinese congregation at the Church of Our Saviour, said the shooting “super-surprised us. It was too close. We felt very afraid. But,” she added, “we believe God will stay with us.”
Ten-year-old Helena Shao, a member of Church of Our Saviour, served as acolyte and as an intercessor at the vigil. Reading aloud the incidents of violence, “I felt very sad,” she said. “I felt like it was important for me to be here.”
Peggy O’Leary, a church member and usher, said the vigil “wasn’t just about Monterey Park. It is about all gun violence and other types of violence. I feel as if I need to lean into it and not act as if it’s just happening someplace outside the church. I am finding peace in being able to be here with the others and holding the horrific-ness of this violence.”