HUNTINGTON – Faith leaders and community members from throughout the hilltowns gathered on the Huntington town green on Thursday evening, for the third annual Interfaith Candlelight Vigil, “bringing light to the issue of domestic violence.”
The event was sponsored by the Hilltown Domestic Violence Interfaith Initiative.
Initiative member Amy Williams greeted those gathered, saying that faith leaders understand that people turn to God in times of difficulty, looking for a safe space.
Faith leaders, including Fr. Ron Sadlowski of Holy Family Parish in Russell, Pastor Carol Smith of the First Congregational Church in Huntington, Pastor Stephen Philbrick of West Cummington Congregational Church and Pastor Charles Cinelli of Huntington Evangelical Church then joined others in a group reading, that began with “Why are we here,” and went on to recite the names of area women killed or injured in acts of domestic violence:
“Because today, many people of faith stay silent about abuse – often with tragic or fatal results – due to misconceptions based on scripture taken out of context.
“Because in March of this year, Luke Karpinski of Sheffield, killed himself, his wife Justine Wilbur, and their 3 children.
“Because in February of this year, Igor Kachur of Chester, stabbed his wife, and then killed himself.
“Because in January of this year, Blake Scanlon of Westfield, fatally stabbed his girlfriend Alexis Avery – in the Westfield apartment the couple shared with their young child.
“Because in January of this year – Nelson Cardova of Northampton killed his wife, Karina Nieves, and himself, leaving their three young daughters without a living parent.
“Because in 2018, Christa Light Steele-Knudsen of North Adams was murdered.
“Because in 2018, Kassedi Klark of Hinsdale was murdered.
“Because in 2017, Joanna Ringer of Clarksburg was murdered.
“Because Jessica Dana from Huntington was killed in 2012.
“Because Karen Hart from Blandford was killed in 2002.”
The pastors also acknowledged that victims of domestic abuse and survivors draw on their faith for strength in living with or leaving the abuse, and that during a trauma, victims are five times more likely to seek the aid of clergy than any other profession. They declared together that no faith community in the hilltowns condones or supports abuse.
Pastor Carol Smith gave the message that God is love and offers a way of love and peace, and does not condone violence. She said the good news is God’s love and wholeness.
Pastor Stephen Philbrick addressed the men in the gathering, acknowledging that “sometimes we’re hurt. We can run, or we can hurt right back.” He encouraged the men to become vulnerable, and acknowledge their pain instead of fighting. “God weeps, because we don’t,” he said. “Gather our love, let it grow large enough to forgive, and gentle enough to open the clenched fist.”
Huntington resident Melissa Reid, a survivor of domestic violence and volunteer with the Initiative, read a poem of survival that she had written. She said domestic violence touches everyone, no matter how distant they are from it.
Youth speaker Bella LeBarron talked about healthy family relationships.
Pastor Charles Cinelli then gave a closing prayer, asking people to light a candle and share the light with their neighbor. He said that domestic violence occurs mostly in the dark, but that we have an all-seeing God who knows what’s going on. He asked for prayer for the Domestic Violence Task Force that offers light to those struggling.
After the vigil, Monica Moran, coordinator of the Southern Hilltown Domestic Violence Task Force, said they hear from survivors that they rely on their faith to survive abuse. She said done wrongly, the faith community can be a huge obstacle.
“There is nothing in the Christian text that supports abuse,” she said, adding that their whole effort is about clarifying that truth. “We can’t address domestic violence if the faith community isn’t a part of it,” she said, also acknowledging that many faith leaders do stand up.