Amidst continued anti-Asian attacks in New York City and just over a week removed from the shooting that claimed eight lives in Atlanta, Georgia, faith leaders at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine held a special prayer service on March 24 in honor of the victims of racist violence.
With observances inside the gigantic house of worship on 1047 Amsterdam Avenue terminated due to the COVID-19 pandemic, droves of attendees united in solemn tribute upon the extensive stone steps. Here they watched with hands locked in prayer positions and shaking heads as names of victims were read aloud by clergy members.
“All of us grieve with the community of Asian Americans for the violence that took place in Atlanta and the lives of dear loved ones who were taken. We are here to make a witness today against that violence as we have also come here to witness against violence against African Americans, and against others,” said Bishop Andrew M. L. Dietsche.
Religious leaders discussed the surge of hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders throughout the pandemic. They stated that last year 3,800 violent acts against Asian individuals were reported to the NYPD. In New York, many of these violent crimes have targeted the elderly and women. They listed the most recent crimes, Noel Quintana who was slashed across the face with a box cutter in an East Village subway station, an 89-woman who was set on fire in Bensonhurst, and countless others.
The Dean of St. John the Divine, Clifton Daniel III, looked upon Suffragan Bishop of New York Allen K. Shin with sorrow as his fellow clergyman told the assembly of his own struggles with xenophobia, citing instances when an individual attempted to run him down with a bike and called him “China virus.” He shared that many Asians have spent the past year living in fear as they have been attacked, blamed, targeted, and scapegoated.
“I’ve been called by racist epithets many times before. I’ve been told to go back home many times before. But never have I felt fearful for my life as I have felt during this pandemic of hatred and violence against Asians,” Bishop Shin said.
The vigil lasted for just under an hour where they condemned the violent acts and emphasized that Christianity is about love, caring, and respecting one another. Throughout the proceedings, some spectators brought signs supporting the Asian community and calling for gun control while one Asian woman placed flowers at the top of the steps.