By Krutika Pathi
As dusk started to settle in at 5:30 PM on Sunday evening, hundreds of mourners in Carroll Park held up lit candles to the sky, in remembrance of victims killed in Paris where at least 129 lives were lost on Friday.
Mourners gathered around the World War I memorial in Carroll Gardens, as they waited for Brooklyn’s Borough President and other elected officials as well as various religious leaders, who all shared words of consolation and solidarity to a crowd of roughly three hundred people. “It doesn’t matter where terrorists strike, if it’s in Paris or Park Slope, or if it’s in Budapest or Brownsville—we all feel it,” said Borough President Eric L. Adams, who organized the candlelight vigil.
Flanked by flags of the United States and France, as well as Lebanon and Kenya, the memorial in the park served as a symbolic sign of commemoration. Paris and Beirut, of course, endured extreme attacks this week. In April of this year, nearly 150 people were killed in a university in Kenya, at the hands of the Somali militant group Al-Shabaab.
“The only question we must ask ourselves is, are we going to surrender to fear?” said Adams, standing in front of the memorial to address the crowd. “I say no to that. As Americans, we’ve never surrendered to fear.”
Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez shared her grief and showed her support also, echoing Adams’ sentiments. “Let me just say that we are in New York. We know well what terrorism is all about,” she said. “This coming together tonight shows the world that we are all Paris. We are all Kenya. We are all Beirut. We are all victims of these horrific acts.”
Assembly member Jo Anne Simon was present as well. “Carroll Gardens is the home of many people from France who we have welcomed as neighbors, and with whom we grieve this evening,” she said.
Carroll Gardens has recently seen an influx of French population. Gary G. Reilly, Chairman of Community Board 6, explained that “PS 58 has got a French program that’s actually famous in France too, so anyone coming to New York, knows about this dual language French program in Brooklyn.”
But candles were being lit not only by the French people in Carroll Gardens, as people from all over Brooklyn. Aziz Butt traveled from Coney Island to express his sympathies. “I’m part of the Pakistani community in Brooklyn and I wanted to show my support. But I’m not here just for my community, but also for my country and religion,” he said. “Terrorism, anywhere in the world, is very bad. It’s sad that such a small group of individuals are making problems for the whole world.”
Closer to Carroll Gardens is Pearl Morano, a long-time local and retired pattern maker, who is thinking of her cousins in Paris. “It’s a shock to see any of this happening anywhere. They had it here, and now it’s there. It hurts, to acknowledge that this is in a world we live in.”
Sandy Edi, from France, was in New York visiting friends when she heard the news. “I heard from my friend and sister. To be away from home at the time—it was unbearable,” she said. “But it brings me some peace to gather here with people tonight, and both mourn and support each other.”
Eric Akhund has lived in Brooklyn for twenty years now, after moving to the United States from Pakistan. “My wife is French. We were both shaken when we heard the horrific news. It’s tangible to us, you know? We’ve been to the very same places in Paris, we’ve been there so many times.”
His wife, Nadine Akhund, a historian, is currently doing research at Columbia University. She was on the subway when she got the news. “I thought it was a joke at first. I rushed to get off at 34th street station to get signal, so I could send my family and friends texts, to make sure they’re okay,” she recalled. “These attacks are frightful, but I’m also concerned about what this means for the European Union. When they talk about shutting down the borders, that’s the scary part. Unfortunately, that may be the outcome of this attack.”
As the candles in their hands started to flicker out, the mourners made their way down Smith Street, toward St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church, where an interfaith service took place. Gilford Monrose, lead Pastor at Mt. Zion Church of God 7th Day and President of 67th Precinct Clergy Council, led the way. “Our message is that we stand together in the face of terrorism, to trust that the people of the world will not buckle under the pressure of all these killings,” he said.
The service at the church included some prayer and words of consolation from different religious leaders. The mourners, clustered in groups of friends, family and strangers at the pews, chanted along, before saying Amen and heading out into the night.
After the crowd dispersed, Father Paul Anel, closed the gates of the church and stood with a candle that lit up in red, white and blue, as the flame burned. Father Anel, originally from France, has been in Brooklyn for the past seven years where his work has been with housing projects. But last year, the Bishop of St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church asked him to start taking care of the French population here. Now, he holds Sunday mass every weekend, with the one this weekend particularly attracting more people.
“There is so much sadness, so much grief,” he said. “But it’s mixed feelings. Of course we wish to turn back time and hope Friday night in Paris was just another regular night. But when tragedy like this happens, we can’t turn away. There is something beautiful about the wake left when something horrific happens—the unity and the solidarity—it’s like we go back to what is essential.”
(All photos taken by Krutika Pathi)