Grieving for victims versus “we’ve got to do something?” Hatred of Islamic extremists versus loathing all Muslims? And now the rank fear that even a place like San Bernardino, with its “out-there,” small-city charm, isn’t really safe — at least from homegrown terrorism.
All these issues were illuminated once again by the Dec. 2 bloodbath in the desert 60 miles east of Los Angeles, where peace-seeking Mormons founded a colony in the early 1850s. The onslaught by U.S. citizen Syed Rizwan Farook and his Pakistani-born wife Tashfeen Malik was the worst terrorist attack in the U.S. since Sept. 11, 2001.
Eleven days later, Dec. 13, the kaleidoscopic-yet-poignant memorial that sprung up at the corner of Waterman Avenue and Orange Show Road, near the Upland Regional Center, was showing its age. The red, white and yellow roses fixed to the 8-foot-high wrought-iron fence were wilting. The thick candles in clear glass containers, many adorned with Our Lady of Guadalupe or Sacred Heart of Jesus images, were worn down. The USA plastic balloons waving in the breeze had drooped a bit. Even the brown Teddy Bear looked weary. And only two TV satellite trucks were parked nearby.
But on this sunny Sunday noon, women still brought fresh Christmas poinsettias. Teens continued to snap cell phone photos. Locals and out-of-towners walked the dirt path between the fence lined with signed posters, and a lower display of candles, plants, stuck-in-the-ground U.S. flags and balloons. All in eerie silence, except for cars and pickups whizzing by.
A biker group in black leather jackets with scarlet stitching showed up. Five members got real close to the fence, bending over to read handwritten messages, like: “We will not let an act of hate define us,” “Dear Lord, Please protect all and let peace reign” and “Rest in peace our Fallen Angels. Thank you for your service.” Miranda simply wrote, “God bless you all. I love you all and I’m sorry.”
A man asked to borrow my ballpoint. He joined his wife at the fence to write “May the people rest in peace.”
“I wanted to pay my respects to the people who were slaughtered and show my support for going after the terrorists as a nation,” confided Joe, who didn’t want to give his last name. “It’s emotional to see this. It shows support for the people who have died and people who were injured. It just shows support with people coming to leave things. It just makes you feel a little bit better about what we have to do next to help with everything.”
Joe and his wife Tammy drove 20 minutes to see the memorial for themselves. After all, their Army son was serving the nation in Germany.
“Heartbreaking,” was how Tammy described the jarring grass-roots shrine. “I feel for the families and what happened to everybody. It’s hitting home. It’s close. It’s scary. It’s crazy. We came out of respect.”
‘No violence in the name of God’
Being scared and blaming mainstream Muslims are the very two things Father Manuel (“Manny”) Cardoza, Our Lady of Hope’s administrator, has been trying to stop since Dec. 2. Five days after the attack, he helped organize an interfaith prayer vigil at the Diocese of San Bernardino’s mother church, Our Lady of the Rosary Cathedral.
The Monday evening service drew local Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and Catholic leaders together to mourn and pray for the victims and those wounded in the attack. Plans for educational programs to learn more about the beliefs and practices of other faiths were announced, along with a yearly festival to remember all victims of violence and, hopefully, develop relationships of peace in the Inland Empire.
Bishop Gerald Barnes stressed, “We do not want our enemies to win over our hearts, to terrify our future. We do not want our hearts to turn against any person, any race, any religion. And so I invite you this evening to be open to the Lord. Let your heart and your mind be open to God’s message for you, for our community and our families. Be open to where our God, a God of mercy and love, leads us.”
Father Cardoza explained how those are no small tasks. Some of his parishioners in San Bernardino, with its distinct almost-everybody-knows-everybody small-town flavor, were still struggling with their gut feelings. “They’re getting through it, and a lot of funerals are happening right now,” he said. “We’re always emphasizing, ‘don’t be afraid,’ and then not to let the hatred and fear rule the day.
“I think for the kids, the young people, it was a little tougher. All of a sudden when they heard about people being shot like that, it’s something they’re gonna ask a lot of questions. So you have to explain to kids that there’s bad people in the world and they do bad things. But I think overall as a parish we’re doing pretty well.”
Still, the 37-year-old priest knows it’s going to take a long time for some Catholics to put the shooting in any kind of Christian perspective. After all, eight of the 14 victims were Catholics.
“It’s not the whole [Muslim] religion,” he stressed. “Obviously, in any religion there’s people who will do crazy things in the name of God. And Pope Francis has spoken about this many times, including on his recent trip to America: ‘No violence in the name of God!’
“The killers here obviously had an ideology of hate,” said the history major and graduate of California State University, San Bernardino. “And that’s not reflective in their faith. But I think we’ve had an obsession for the last 30 years in this country about Islamic terrorists since the attacks in Libya and other places. But, as Catholics, we need to avoid all overt and covert Islamophobia. We just can’t allow hatred to divide us. Love has to overcome fear. We need to walk with our Muslim brothers and sisters.”
“I think about it all day long. And I can’t imagine, I can’t imagine how anyone could push them. Because these were educated people. Yet, how could they be persuaded? That’s what boggles my mind,” Yoli Catalano was saying to her friend, Rusty Purper, right after the 9:30 a.m. Sunday Mass at Our Lady of Hope Church.
The long-time parishioners were talking, of course, about homegrown terrorists who, according to FBI investigators, fatally shot nine men and five women — county health inspectors and workers — with legal AK-15 rifles and semiautomatic pistols. Twenty-one others were wounding in the Dec. 2 late-morning attack at the Inland Regional Center, 15 minutes from the white Catholic church serving three congregations: Hispanics, Vietnamese and Caucasians.
“But the one thing that stuck in my mind — what mother could leave a baby knowing that she was gonna die?” said Purper. “That tells you right there that she’s way off, way off. She’s not normal. Not in any way, shape or form.”
Catalano was nodding now. “No, but it’s getting deeper and deeper. That’s what’s scary. There’s so much more they’re finding out.”
Both women, sitting next to each other in a middle pew 16 rows back from the altar, had a hard time understanding how such carnage could be carried out in the name of religion. Radical fanatics like card-carrying members of ISIS in their black fatigues brandishing swords were one thing, a quiet government worker and his stay-at-home spouse another.
“Shock! Shock! Shock!” Purper declared. “We always think it’s gonna happen somewhere else, not in our home backyard. And that’s scary.”
Catalano talked about a personal connection that still bothers her deeply. She works at a ministry feeding the homeless six days a week called Mary’s Mercy Center off Sixth Street in San Bernardino. She never actually met Farook, but he was the nonprofit’s health department inspector, with a visit scheduled for later this month.
“And we have all these Christian statues and tapestries around,” she pointed out, shaking her head. “So you just wonder if we were on his target list, too. His signature was on forms all over the place.”
Out back of Our Lady of Hope after Mass, parishioner Mark Morlet, wearing a flannel shirt over jeans, was manning a table selling inspirational books, tapes and videos. The middle-age contractor had thought another terrorist attack was eminent. That was a given. But he never thought it would happen in San Bernardino, where he moved 20 years ago to be able to buy a home and raise kids safely away from L.A.’s mean streets.
“It’s like, why here?” he said. “I just think all the ingredients were just here for these two people who wanted to take out their vengeance on America. I think they were set on stepping out for their faith against us. I mean, they went to the extreme. But to me they’re following what their book, the Koran, says.
“And it’s hard to grasp. It’s hard to figure: ‘Well, how could people do that for religion?’ But all the areas that Mohammed took over, they were all Christian. And they were taken by the sword. And that’s what ISIS is trying to recreate with the sword. Those two here in San Bernardino, they were answering the call from ISIS. You know, it’s terrible.
“I don’t understand how they had that hate,” Morlet wondered aloud. “It’s hard to understand. But they think they’re doing good. That’s the problem. They think they’re martyrs. So the only way we can fight it is with more love.”