Las Vegas Sun

November 20, 2018

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Las Vegas faith leaders unite for emotional Oct. 1 service on the Strip

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Steve Marcus

Michael Whitehead, a paramedic field supervisor for Medic West, wipes away a tear after speaking in an interfaith prayer service at Guardian Angel Cathedral Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018. The service was held to remember the one-year anniversary of the Oct. 1 mass shooting. STEVE MARCUS

Interfaith Prayer Service For Oct. 1 Anniversary

Father Bob Stoeckig, center, is joined by religious leaders on the Altar as they sing 'let There Be Peace on Earth Launch slideshow »

Bishop George Leo Thomas of the Catholic diocese of Las Vegas asked a congregation gathered Sunday at Guardian Angel Cathedral on the Strip how they would mend a broken heart — and stop the rain from falling down.

The symbolic lyrics, from a 1971 song Bee Gees legends Barry and Robin Gibb wrote for soul artist Al Green, help capture the struggles faced over the last year by the local community in dealing with the aftermath of the Oct. 1 mass shooting, Thomas said.

“This past year has been a time of unthinkable pain and raw emotion for the Las Vegas community,” Thomas told the crowd of about 200 people. “But it has also been a time when Las Vegas has revealed the best the human family has to offer, the resilience of the human spirit in the face of incalculable odds.”

Referencing Bible verses to credit first responders, the health care community and Good Samaritans who risked their lives to assist victims one year ago, Thomas recognized the families who lost loved ones and the community as a whole for its role in healing.

He was joined in the service by more than a dozen leaders from Protestant, Jewish, Orthodox, Islamic, non-denominational and other faiths. A similar interfaith service was held at the cathedral the day after the Oct. 1, 2017, massacre.

This time, though, the message was different. Through the many tears shed at the service, the faith leaders and survivors highlighted the healing the community has made over the last year.

“We have become stronger and ever-vigilant to guard against this ever happening again,” said Michael Whitehead, a paramedic supervisor who coordinated transportation for dozens of injured festivalgoers last year.

Whitehead was one of three survivors to speak Thursday, joining freelance photographer David Becker and Route 91 attendee Mindy Scott. All three speakers spoke with pride in describing Las Vegas as their home city,

Becker, the only photographer to capture live shots of the scurrying crowd, said the ongoing healing of the community has been difficult, but evident.

“Every time I remember that awful night, I remind myself of the strength of these people continue to heal,” Becker said. “While none of us will ever be the same, we have drawn strength from each other.”

Amidst prayers and song — both hymnal and contemporary — Rabbi Sanford Akselrad of Congregation Ner Tamid said the Las Vegas community has not been defined by tragedy, but rather it’s ability to heal.

Similar to last year, the faith leaders completed the service with an emotional rendition of “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” Led by a choir that included students from Bishop Gorman High School, faith leaders and attendees lined up with arms around one another while singing together.

“We are here to make a statement of hope and healing and love,” Akselrad said.