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Vigil draws Sikhs, Anglicans to downtown Roseville

Event honors Indian cleric assassinated in July
By: Graham Womack, Staff Writer
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The only seemingly awkward moment of a candlelight vigil Monday in downtown Roseville came near the end.

Father Joshua Lickter of Incarnation Anglican Church in Roseville stood before roughly 30 people in Vernon Street Town Center, leading those who chose to join in song. “Will you decide now, to follow Jesus?” Lickter and others sang.

They sang to honor the memory of Pastor Sultan Masih, gunned down July 16 approximately 7,500 miles away in Punjab, India after he ignored demands by Hindu extremists to stop preaching Christianity.

One group seemed to stand mostly silent during the song, a group of about 20 Sikhs who had come to the event, most of them from the Roseville Sikh Temple and a few from Stockton.

These people weren’t offended by the song, one member said shortly after the event ended. Some simply might have not known the words — not that it mattered.

“We came here for Father Masih and his beliefs,” said Bhajan Singh, who also serves as founding director for the Organization of Minorities of India. “That’s paramount. … If we have this kind of bad feeling, then what’s the difference between us and the people who killed him?”

Singh, Lickter and others came together Monday evening to honor Pastor Masih and address a disturbing trend that might not be known to the average Roseville resident — a rise in India in recent years of Hindu nationalism, which has led to targeting of non-Hindus.

“I think pretty much all of us far away in California have heard about Charlottesville,” Pieter Friedrich told the crowd, referring to the recent hate rally in Virginia that left three people dead.

“What if I told you there’s a place where a movement like this is not the fringe?” Friedrich added, speaking of how India’s current populist Prime Minister Narendra Modi was elected in 2014, holding non-Hindus as foreign to India.

Friedrich cited a statistic from Open Doors USA, which monitors religious persecution around the world and currently rates India as the 15th worst country to be a Christian.

Another Sikh, Gary Singh, told the crowd that he wanted to say one thing: “that India belongs to all.”

“All the Indians have to know what the hell is going on in their country,” Gary Singh told the crowd. “If they don’t stop, things are going to be worse.”

Even in Roseville, many members of the Sikh temple are here only because they’ve been given political asylum by the United States, Bhajan Singh said.

Monday’s event was sparsely attended, with no Roseville City Council members and seemingly no other civic leaders on hand. Some residents might have been kept inside by heat that seemed to linger in the low triple-digits late into the evening. Collective apathy might have suppressed turnout as well.

“The greatest sin of humanity these days is the sin of indifference,” Father George Snyder Jr. of St. Clare Parish in Roseville told the attendees.

Still, those who came or even stopped briefly by the event seemed to come away with positive impressions.

“It’s kind of nice to see something like this in America right now,” Lorraine Loria said.

Scott Flanagan and a few other members of Harvest Community Church in Roseville could be seen milling around before the event started in black t-shirts with white lettering that read, “Free Prayer.”

Though Flanagan and his fellow members departed before the event began to do pre-scheduled volunteer work nearby, Flanagan had positive things to say about the vigil when his group happened back by the square later.

“What I like about (this) is just (that it’s) bringing people from different faiths together,” Flanagan said.

Bhajan Singh called Monday’s vigil “a groundbreaking event.” Asked if his group would consider holding another event with Lickter, Bhajan Singh said yes and predicted stronger turnout.

“This has inspired all of us to continue this dialogue and actions,” he said.