Nearby Texas Catholic church reaches out during synagogue hostage crisis

COLLEYVILLE, Texas (CNS) – As the tense hours of a Jan. 15 hostage situation unfolded at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area, an incredible display of faith and community s also took place at the nearby Good Shepherd Church, according to Franciscan Father Zachary Burns.

“Just to see not only the Good Shepherd community, but also people from other faiths and the community at large come together to help each other was so amazing,” the parish vicar of the parish told North Texas Catholic. , the media of the Diocese of Fort Worth.

That morning, a British citizen later identified as Malik Faisal Akram, 44, entered Congregation Beth Israel armed during the synagogue’s Sabbath morning service and took four hostages, including Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, and engaged in an 11-hour standoff with law enforcement officials.

All four were eventually released unharmed although Akram was killed in the incident.

Officials from numerous law enforcement and media agencies used the Good Shepherd parking lot and facilities during the clash.

“We were able to open the parish hall for them and the faithful of Congregation Beth Israel so that they could protect themselves from the cold, warm up and have a coffee,” said Mike Short, director of security for the diocese.

Short oversaw the efforts of diocesan Guardian ministers to assist law enforcement officials.

Local and national media and police crowd the parking lot of Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Colleyville, Texas on January 15, 2022, after four hostages were taken during services at nearby Congregation Beth Israel. After approximately 11 hours of confrontation with an FBI crisis response team at the scene, the incident at the synagogue ended with the release of the hostages and the hostage taker was shot. (CNS Photo/Kevin Bartram, North Texas Catholic Magazine)

“We had a great response from (custodian ministers) across the diocese who provided security and assistance throughout the day,” Short said. “It was amazing – the support from staff, parishioners, other faith leaders and members, and the community coming together to do all they could to help.”

The Diocesan Guardians Ministry is a volunteer, community-led security ministry that provides parishes with a peaceful and safe place of worship.

“I can’t even begin to tell you how grateful we are for our guardian ministers,” Father Burns said. “So grateful that we have these guys ready to be that line of defense and the response yesterday was amazing. I can’t tell you how many Guardians showed up.

Members of the Christian, Jewish and Islamic faiths and a representative of the city attended a prayer vigil in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd.

“It was a late development deal that lasted about 45 minutes,” the Burns father said. “Just a chance for anyone to stand up and offer a prayer or a reflection, just people trying to support each other.”

Food prepared for a Marriage Ministry event scheduled that night which was canceled was donated to feed those in attendance. Parishioners and others arrived throughout the day with food and offers of help.

“We actually got more requests for help than we could handle,” Short said.

Father Burns, who came to the parish about two years ago from “north”, joked that he had been told beforehand that people in Texas, Catholic and otherwise, tended to live their daily faith.

“It was very evident today,” Father Burns said.

The Bishop of Fort Worth, Michael F. Olson, agreed.

“Thank God for their safety,” Bishop Olson tweeted after the hostages were safely released.

Bishop Olson also thanked Good Shepherd leaders, first responders and members of Congregation Beth Israel.

Father Burns noted that Rabbi Cytron-Walker, a proponent of interfaith dialogue, has long been a friend of the Good Shepherd.

“All of my time here has been under the pandemic, so I haven’t had the opportunity to meet many regional leaders from other faiths,” Fr. Burns said.

He noted that he and Good Shepherd Pastor Franciscan Father Michael Higgins “had lunch with Rabbi Charlie recently and it is ironic that yesterday I saw perhaps the largest interfaith gathering I have ever had. given what has been a very eventful and tragic day.”

In an interview with Channel 8, the local ABC-TV affiliate, Father Higgins said, “When our brothers and sisters in the Jewish community suffered, we suffered with them. It was terrible that they had to go through that. It was a scary experience for the family.

When the clash ended, he added, there were “cheers, hugs and prayers together” among family members and others in the church hall. It was “really powerful,” the priest said.

Nationwide, Washington Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory, who has long been involved in interfaith dialogue and other efforts, expressed relief that the hostages were safe in a Jan. 16 tweet.

“We thank God for the safety of the members of Beth Israel in Texas. Thank you also for the successful work of these public safety officials,” he tweeted. “We stand with our Jewish neighbors in the face of violence. May all who suffer hatred in their places of worship know our prayers.

The Washington Post and other news outlets said the hostage taker expressed anger over the imprisonment of a Pakistani woman who was convicted of terrorism by a New York court in 2010 and held in a federal prison in Ft. Worth.

The woman, Aafia Siddiqui, was found guilty of attempting to assassinate US soldiers in Afghanistan.

The FBI and other law enforcement officials were investigating Akram’s arrival in the United States at John F. Kennedy International Airport about five weeks ago, his subsequent trip to the Dallas area where he stayed in a homeless shelter for a few nights in early January, and how and when he bought the gun he used to take the hostages.

Two teenagers were arrested on January 15 in Manchester, England, as part of the investigation. The teenagers were later identified as Akram’s sons.

Matthew Smith writes for North Texas Catholic, the media outlet for the Diocese of Fort Worth. Mark Zimmermann in Washington contributed to this story.

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