By Patrick Mott, Editor, Orange County Catholic     2/7/2015

GARDEN GROVE — A group of religious leaders from throughout Orange County gathered at Christ Cathedral campus Jan. 25 to personally endorse a unique statement of principle condemning violence in houses of worship.

Nearly 50 teachers and leaders of various Orange County faith communities signed the document, which offered “condolences to the families and friends of worshippers around the world killed in the name of God or religion.”

“We are especially dismayed,” the preamble to the document read, “that more and more often these killings occur in their houses of worship. We wish a speedy recovery to those injured in various attacks while they prayed and studied. The murder of innocent worshippers in a sacred place of prayer and reflection is an affront to all humanity.”

The documents signatories included representatives from Jewish and Muslim congregations, Christian denominations, and the Sikh and Buddhist communities, among others. The Diocese of Orange was represented by Bishop Kevin Vann and Father Alfred Baca, the diocese’s Episcopal Vicar for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

“In many Catholic churches throughout the world,” said Bishop Vann at a brief press conference in the campus’ Cultural Center, “you’ll find the words, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer.’” He added that religious leaders at the event had “met people who have lost loved ones” to violence at places of worship. He called Orange County “blessed” because “it is in many ways a crossroads of the world” where many different faiths coexist peacefully.

Rabbi Frank Stern, the President of the Orange County Interfaith Network and the emcee for the event, said it was “unconscionable that people…should have to worry about someone coming in to their place of worship and killing them.” Recalling the Holocaust and more recent attacks such as the terrorist attack last November at a Jerusalem synagogue, Rabbi Stern said that “the Jews of the 20th century know full well what can happen when religious worship is disturbed by violence.”

Two Orange County Muslim leaders present—Imam Sayed Moustafa al-Qazwini of the Islamic Educational Center of Orange County and Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, the Director of the Islamic Society of Orange County—cited verses from the Qur’an in support of nonviolence and respect for all places of worship. Islam, said Imam al-Qazwini, enjoins its followers to “defend not only their own places of worship, but the places of worship of others. These are places where God’s name is celebrated and invoked.”

Here is the text of the group’s statement of principle:

“Houses of worship are sacred spaces. They should not be desecrated by acts of aggression, violence or terror.

“Houses of worship should be safe for people who pray and study in them.

“Weapons, munitions and the tools of war should not be brought into or stored in any house of worship.

“Houses of worship should not be used to house hostages, captives or prisoners.

“These combative and aggressive activities violate the sanctity of houses of worship and place the people within them at unnecessary risk.

“We call upon all people of good will to commit themselves to the inviolability, safety and security of all places of worship in the world. We pray that our cooperation and mutual respect will lead to a more peaceful society in the United States and abroad.”