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Residents hear from diverse group of faith organization leaders

Nearly 100 residents sit on the front lawn of Avon Congregational Church for Tuesday night’s candlelight vigil.

AVON, August 22 — Many Americans have been rattled in the past few weeks by violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, terrorist attacks in Barcelona and a country that is raw, divided and split over racism and sexism.

Leaders from eight area faith organizations offered encouragement and strength to nearly 100 residents on Tuesday at a candlelight vigil on the front lawn at Avon Congregational Church in full view of the passing motorists on Route 44.

The Farmington Valley League of Light, a local interfaith group that was organized this summer, hosted the event.

“We came together as a single community comprised of diverse faiths, bringing the common light of understanding, memory and justice,” said Mike Smoolea, a member of the League of Light and St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Simsbury.

“We come together as one to share the light and love even if it is just for an hour,” said Dr. Khamis Abu-Hasaballah, a member of the League of Light and president of the Farmington Valley American Muslim Center. He urged people to remain positive. “The work we’re doing today may not show results today or tomorrow but it is for the generations to come so our children and grandchild won’t have to hold these vigils.”

Rabbi Debra Cantor holds a sign that said that hate has no place here at Tuesday night’s candlelight vigil in Avon. With Cantor is Rev. Linda Spiers of Trinity Episcopal Church in Collinsville and Art Miller, deacon at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Simsbury.

Hasaballah sang a passage from the Quran.

Art Miller, a deacon at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Simsbury, provided a powerful message. “You are here tonight and that counts,” Miller said. “What did you do to respond to the ugliness in our community? You can say you stood up. And continue to stand up anytime you see anything or hear anything that disparages anyone. You must not ignore it or delete it.

“I am standing up against racism, against sexism, against any kind of anti-Semitism, against Muslims, against anyone,” he said.

“Do speak out,” Canton’s Sally Albrecht urged the crowd. “Give your opinion. Don’t be silent on the issue of racism.”

Residents hold hands in prayer Tuesday night at the candlelight vigil in Avon.

Reverend Bart Cochran from Southwick (Mass.) Congregational Church kicked off the event and was followed by Stephanie Podewell, who relayed a message from U.S. Representative Elizabeth Esty (D-5). Senior Mary Ann Strain from Our Lady of Calvary Retreat Center spoke along with Rabbi Deborah Cantor from Congregation B’nai Tikvoh-Sholom in Bloomfield.

Breezy conditions cancelled the candlelight portion of the event. Reverend Chris Dion of the Hills Lutheran Church in Simsbury spoke along with Dr. Abu-Hasaballah, Reverend Linda Spiers of the Trinity Episcopal Church in Collinsville, Miller, Reverend Kevin Weikel, an associate pastor at First Church in Simsbury and Smoolea.

Members of the Jewish faith played shofar, an ancient Jewish instrument made from a ram’s horn, at the end of the ceremony.

Besty Van Loon, a member of the League of Light and Avon Congregational Church and one of the event’s organizers, said the decision to hold the event on the lawn was to draw more attention to it instead of going inside the air conditioned facility.

After it concluded, a member of the Avon Congregational Church put a sign under one of the trees on the front lawn that simply said, “Love.”

Photos from the vigil posted at our photo gallery.

Residents sit on the front lawn of Tuesday night’s candlelight vigil in front of Avon Congregational Church.

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 30 years.


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