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Families, friends commemorate those killed in Oakland

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placeholder January 18, 2016   •   VOL. 54, NO. 2   •   Oakland, CA

The crosses are removed and held by people until all the names have been read, then the group processes into the church.

Families, friends commemorate those killed in Oakland

About 100 people gathered for an annual ceremony on Dec. 31 at St. Columba Church in Oakland, marking the 89 homicides that took place in Oakland during 2015.

During the year, a white cross bearing the name and birthdate, if known, of each person killed in Oakland is placed in the yard in front of St. Columba's rectory, adjacent to the church on San Pablo Avenue, explained Rev. Aidan McAleenan, pastor at St. Columba. At the end of the year, an interfaith ceremony of song and prayer is followed by the removing of the crosses, reading the names of those killed, a procession and laying of the crosses at the altar, and testimonials of friends and family members. This year, at the end of the ceremony, the crowd sent balloons into the sky.

"We are longing for the day when there are no crosses in front of St. Columba," said Father McAleenan.

Rev. H. James Hopkins, pastor at Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church in Oakland, offered an opening prayer. As the ceremony ended, Rabbi David Cooper of Kehilla Community Synagogue reminded the crowd we are all made in the image of God, "when we kill, we kill the universe; when we save one, we save the universe. Treasure the image of God each one of us is."

Former pastor Rev. Jayson Landeza started the ministry of the crosses in 2004, taking them down at the end of each year. "He thought it was wrong pulling down these crosses on his own," said Father McAleenan, and about six years ago, a public ceremony was begun.

Sister Marian Castelluccio, OP, said the service honors all faith traditions, and is held so the families of those killed are not forgotten.

Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent reported that while major crimes have declined in Oakland for the past three years, more people were murdered in 2015 than 2014. "It shows how much work we have left to do."

The community can "work together to make this the safest big city in America," he said.

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