Texas Synagogue Attack: Moving Backstory of the Catholic Church That Hosted the Hostages’ Families
Good Shepherd Catholic Community Church provided safety and space for interfaith prayer and discussion.
It was only two weeks ago today that Catholics around the world witnessed a moving ecumenical display. A friar in a brown robe, illuminated by flashing lights from a parked police car, spoke with law enforcement during an intense hostage situation ocurring only a short distance away.
When the standoff at Congregation Beth Israel occurred on Jan. 15, the nearby Catholic parish became a place of refuge for families of the four hostages, one of whom was the rabbi, and congregants of the synagogue waiting for resolution.
At the request of authorities, the staff of Good Shepherd Catholic Community Church in Colleyville, Texas, immediately said “Yes” to opening their doors to the people whom the pastor, Franciscan Father Michael Higgins, told the Register were “friends and neighbors.”
Press and authorities gathered in the parking lot of Good Shepherd during the standoff. Staff and parishioners welcomed religious leaders and families into the parish hall to offer them coffee, food and a chance to escape the cold.
“If you can think of the person in your life that you love the most, and then think that they are in harm’s way and you don’t have a way of intervening to help them get to safety — this is what the family was going through,” Father Higgins told the Register. “Knowing that their loved ones were with a deranged person who was well-armed, and the FBI SWAT team had been called in and was surrounding their place of worship — imagine what that would do to you internally.”
He added that Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker’s wife and daughter and their fellow congregants still had a real sense of peace and a strong faith that God was with them.
A 45-minute prayer vigil, held in Good Shepherd’s chapel, hosted people of Islamic and Jewish backgrounds as well as Christians. A representative from the city also attended. Theological discussions ensued between each of the different religious leaders.
“Just seeing not only the Good Shepherd community but people from other faiths and the community in general coming together to help one another was so unbelievable,” said parochial vicar Franciscan Father Zachary Burns, according to North Texas Catholic, the newspaper of the Diocese of Fort Worth.
Diocesan director of security Mike Short led the Guardian Ministry, a community-led safety and security volunteer ministry that provides parishes with a peaceful and safe place to worship. He and his volunteers worked with law enforcement that day.
The situation began during the synagogue’s morning service, when armed British national Malik Faisal Akram, 44, took the hostages, who escaped, unharmed, 11 hours later. Akram was killed by law enforcement shortly after the last hostage ran from the building. More arrests were made last week amid the ongoing investigation.
Cheers of exaltation, embraces and prayers filled the parish hall when the standoff came to an end around 9:30pm on Jan. 15.
“There’s a dignity in the fact that we are made in God’s image and likeness. I think that one of the tensions between religions is that we lose sight of that,” Father Higgins told the Register. “Even in the midst of our theological discussions that were going on here ... there was a real sense of we are people who have a belief in God — all of us.”
Rabbi Cytron-Walker expressed his appreciation for the community in a Facebook post that received more than 10,000 likes and 2,600 shares.
“I am thankful and filled with appreciation for all of the vigils and prayers and love and support,” he wrote. “All of the law enforcement and first responders who cared for us, all of the security training that helped save us. I am grateful for my family. I am grateful for the CBI [Congregation Beth Israel] Community, the Jewish Community, the Human Community.”
“I am grateful that we made it out,” he wrote. “I am grateful to be alive.”