The group was small, but their voices were strong as they paid tribute to the nine victims in Charleston, South Carolina, who were gunned down last week inside of the church where the pastor and several members were engaged in bible study.
Good Shepherd Church of God in Christ and the United Congregations of the Metro East came together with others during a vigil Friday outside East St. Louis City Hall to remember the lives of the victims.
“Look on the people in South Carolina. Let your grace, mercy and kindness sweep out throughout the whole world. We ask for your mercy, justice and judgment,” they prayed.
Calling the victims and their loved ones, “our brothers and sisters,” Pastor Norma Patterson said, “look on them in a special way ... from the crown of their heads to the souls of their feet. Bless the minds of their families and cause them to live on. Their hope and blessings are in your hands.”
The prayer group brought with them a message of love. They said they would not let hate win over love.
Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white male from South Carolina, is charged with nine counts of first degree murder. Police, in their investigation, uncovered his alleged hate filled messages in social media. Roof spent an hour inside of the church praying with pastor Clementa Pinckney and several church members before he allegedly opened fire on the congregation.
Patterson said the lives of the victims were tragically cut short while they were in a sanctuary where black people have always sought refuge. “It was an evil tragedy,” she said.
Asked what her immediate reaction was when she learned what happened in South Carolina inside of Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Patterson said she asked herself, “Why am I so surprised? This has been happening to black churches in the South for years. They let up and die down and then go right back up.
“They are trying to attack us where our faith is. They (whoever the perpetrators are) go burn down the house of God where our faith, our anchor and hope is.”
The group hosted the prayer vigil, Patterson said, because “there is power in prayer. We needed to publicly say to the world that we are here supporting the people of Charleston. They need our prayers and our support.”
East St. Louis Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks said, “as we stand here today praying for the families who lost their loved ones, we realize that we as a people still have a long ways to go. Love is what is going to get us through this ordeal we have encountered as a people. Love covers a multitude of sins.”
Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503.