HUNDREDS of candles were lit in Westminster Abbey on Wednesday as London’s political and faith leaders gathered for a service of hope — 14 days after five people were killed and 50 injured in a terrorist attack just a stone’s throw away across Parliament Square.
“Together let us affirm our shared humanity and our resolve to bring light and life to all,” the Dean of Westminster, the Very Revd John Hall, said, as candles held by the congregation were lit one by one along the rows of national dignitaries, police officers, paramedics, and relatives of those killed.
The service was sombre but intended to inspire, its organisers conscious that it was taking place just a fortnight after Khalid Masood mowed down pedestrians on Westminster Bridge and knifed PC Keith Palmer in the grounds of the Palace of Westminster (News, 24 March).
On Friday morning it was confirmed that a fourth person, Romanian tourist Andreea Cristea, had died from her injuries suffered after being hit by Mr Masood's car on the bridge.
Ms Cristea was knocked into the River Thames, while her boyfriend, Andrei Burnaz — who had been planning to propose to Ms Cristea during their holiday in Britain — suffered a broken foot.
The families of PC Palmer and those who died on the bridge through the terrorist’s actions had lost the most, the Dean said, while everyone had been left “bewildered and disturbed”.
Quoting John Donne, the Dean reminded the Abbey: “No man is an island, entire of itself”; because of this “any man’s death diminishes me”. Indeed, the attack was not
just against London but against the world, he said. Those killed and injured included visitors from countries as far afield as South Korea, Australia, and the United States.
Mr Masood’s deadly assault on Westminster defied sense, the Dean said. “What could possibly motivate a man to drive fast at people he had never met, against whom he had no personal grudge, no reason to hate them, and then run at the gates of the Palace of Westminster to cause another death?”
After his address ended, the haunting melody of a cellist, playing a traditional Catalan melody in the nave, echoed around the Abbey.
The Old Testament reading, from the book of Jeremiah, pursued the theme of lament: “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children . . . because they are no more.”
But the second reading, the parable of the Good Samaritan, was chosen as a direct challenge to those who sought to drive a wedge between those of different faiths who lived in London, just as it originally tackled the enmity between Jews and their brethren in Samaria, the Dean explained. It was read by the Duke of Cambridge, who was joined at the service by his wife and Prince Harry.
“That enmity is no bar to the Samaritan doing a good deed for the Jew,” Dean Hall said. “The people who should have been the first responders, the ones who walked past quickly, were of the same faith and nationality as the injured man. But they did nothing.”
Perhaps they feared the man was dead and thus ceremonially unclean, the Dean suggested; but “Jesus condemns them — they have failed the test of compassion and love, the test of mercy, which Jesus rates far more highly than adherence to narrow religious conventions.”
Christ was calling people to reach out in “brotherly and sisterly love” to those of other faiths and backgrounds, the Dean said. He recalled the example of the Archbishops of Canterbury and Westminster, who joined the Chief Rabbi and leading Sunni and Shia Muslim imams to proclaim a mutual respect and abhorrence for violence outside the Abbey in the days after the attack (News, 31 March).
“We stand together; just as in this service the world faiths are represented and will pray together — above all for the gift of hope,” the Dean concluded.
Prayers were said by faith representatives, including a Commander of the Metropolitan Police, Mak Chishty, a Muslim, and Constable Jaskaran Garcha, a Sikh.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, concluded the time of prayer by quoting the prayer ascribed to St Francis of Assisi: “Lord, make us channels of your peace. . . Where there is hatred let us bring your love. . . . Where there is despair in life, let us bring hope. Where there is darkness, only light.”