Religious leaders from around the region today gathered at the former site of Pennsylvania Hall to call for an end to gun violence – but they weren't advocating for prayer alone.
"We call on our congregation to take direct action, to put their feet to the faith," said Rev. James McIntire of Heeding God's Call, a grassroots interfaith coalition organized that stages regular vigils outside gun stores they say sell to straw purchasers. "Something to direct them out of their pews and into the community."
Attendees were asked to sign a pledge to not only support the victims of gun violence and to keep the issue at the forefront of their community, but to do everything possible as individuals to bring that violence to an end.
"We chose this location to hold this rally and this press conference because it's on the site of what was Pennsylvania Hall, a hall built to end slavery," McIntire said. "On this site in 1838, religious leaders gathered to take a public stance against slavery, and it was that public stance that eventually led to abolition. I believe we can take a public stance against gun violence and end it now."
The interfaith rally was attended by representatives of Christian, Jewish and Islamic faiths, who drew parallels between the shooting deaths in Newtown and those that happen here in Philadelphia on a near daily basis.
"We express our profound grief at the loss of so many lives in Newtown, Connecticut," said Rev. Lucy Rupe of the Presbytery of Philadelphia. "Our Philadelphia community knows too well the tragedy. Well over 320 of our neighbors here lost their lives in our neighborhoods during this epidemic."
One of the common themes the speakers endorsed was the importance of presenting a united front moving forward.
"We must all come together as one people finally in this country to stop this violence," said activist Bilal Qayyum, who warned that the community must stand together in the face of an impending NRA backlash against gun control legislation planned in the tragedy's wake. "I'm standing here not only for the 20 white kids killed in Connecticut, but for the 20 black kids killed in Philadelphia."