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‘We’re praying for them, praying with them’: Haligonians gather to remember Charleston shooting victims

WATCH: The Cornwallis Street Baptist Church held a vigil Friday night to remember the nine lives that were lost in last week’s senseless shooting at a Charleston, South Carolina church. Julia Wong reports.

HALIFAX – More than 100 people gathered at a Halifax church Friday night for a vigil to remember the Charleston church shooting victims.

RELATED: Halifax church to hold prayer vigil for Charleston shooting victims

Nine people were shot and killed last week at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston during a Bible study.

The vigil was held Friday night at Cornwallis Street Baptist Church.

The approximately 45 minute service included songs, scripture and prayers. It also included a candle lighting for the nine victims and attendees signed condolence books that will be sent to Charleston.

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READ MORE: Thousands expected for Obama’s tribute to victims of Charleston church massacre

“We’re going … to let them know that Nova Scotians are standing with them in this tragedy,” said Dr. Rhonda Britton, senior pastor at the church.

“To let Charleston know we are standing in solidarity. We’re praying with them. We’re grieving with them.”

READ MORE: Church resumes Bible study where 9 were shot to death in Charleston

 

Many people said they attended the vigil to show their support for residents in Charleston.

“It’s a sad occasion. I just want to be a part of showing how we care and we do care,” said Sharon Johnson.

“Those are our brothers and sisters. We love them and we grieve them. We’re family,” said Melinda Daye.

“We want them to know that we are here in Canada, in Halifax, [and] that we’re thinking of them. We’re praying for them, praying with them. They’re in our thoughts. They’re in our prayers. We hurt. We hurt.”

Dolly Williams echoed those thoughts, saying the shooting hit close to home.

“I feel the pain of what happened. Racism is alive and well and I think we need to sit around the table and talk about it,” she said.

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People of all ages and all races attended Friday’s vigil, packing the pews on the first floor of the church.

“This is something I believe connects with anyone, whether you’re black, white or whatever colour,” said Sheldon Cain.

“The least we can do is to come together just to show people in Charleston we’re thinking about you, we care about you and we don’t want this to happen to anybody anywhere.”

The chief of the Halifax Regional Police, Jean-Michel Blais, also attended the vigil. He renewed the calls to combat issues of racism in Halifax.

“Anytime there is such a loss of life, even if it’s in the States or elsewhere in the world, considering the circumstances, especially in a church, it’s our way of showing how much we support the community,” he said.

“We have to face the realities that racism unfortunately still exists. As long as it exists, we have to do our best to fight against it.”

Britton called the vigil a service of grief but also one of hope, adding she wants more discussion about race and racism and wants people to question why racist beliefs and attitudes exist.

“We are in a culture of denial when it comes to racist attitudes.  You can have prejudicial attitudes, biased attitudes, racist attitudes filled with hatred. You direct that hatred at people you don’t even know simply by virtue of their colour, the colour of their skin or their ethnicity. These are the kinds of attitudes we need to wipe out,” she said.

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“We are hoping from this service and just highlighting this tragedy and the way it has affected society that we can begin to address these attitudes, be honest with them because the first step is a honest self-examination to see what attitudes am I harboring?”

Britton said it was an emotional journey preparing for Friday’s vigil.

“I’ve had several moments of tears and thinking about what people went through or even recounting to others the story about how tragedy occurred has brought me to tears,” she said.

“But then I smile in thinking that people are listening, people are wanting to know, people are interested in seeing what difference can I make so in that way there’s hope that’s coming from it.”

The church is also holding another service Sunday at 3 p.m. in partnership with CeaseFire Halifax, which is a program designed to curb violence in the city.