Walking through downtown Philadelphia last week, a young woman named Raquel was startled by an unusual protest: more than 200 demonstrators holding up T-shirts, each bearing the name of someone killed by gunfire in the city over the past year.

But her surprise turned to shock when she recognized one of those names: that of her cousin, Douglas Miles Talley, murdered July 3, 2021 in North Philadelphia.

Talley, 29 years old, was one of 497 fatal shooting victims in the city last year.

“He really was so close to me,” said Raquel. “He was my best friend.”

Raquel immediately joined the crowd, which had just concluded an interfaith prayer service at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul. The June 9 ecumenical gathering was the first segment of “From Sanctuary to Street, from Lament to Action,” a multipart rally sponsored by the Religious Leaders Council of Greater Philadelphia, the nonprofit Heeding God’s Call to End Gun Violence and local faith institutions.

Retired Philadelphia Auxiliary Bishop Edward Deliman served as the event’s principal convener on behalf of Archbishop Nelson Pérez, joined by faith leaders from the Episcopal Diocese of Philadelphia; Quba Masjid; the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Philadelphia; the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; the Philadelphia Bahá’í Community; Congregation Mishkan Shalom, Cookman Beloved Community Baptist Church, Mt. Pisgah A. M. E. Church and the Unitarian Universalists of Mt. Airy, all in Philadelphia; and Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Landsale.

Music for the service was provided by Cathedral director of music Charlene Angelini, Rabbi Shawn Zevit and a choral and instrumental ensemble under the baton of Waverly Alston.

Retired Philadelphia Auxiliary Bishop Edward Deliman speaks at a June 9 interfaith prayer service and rally against gun violence. During the ecumenical gathering, which began at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, Bishop Deliman stressed the need for hope in Christ, who conquered “the chains of sin, death and hatred.” (Gina Christian)

“The violence that we continue to experience in our communities reflects a moral depravity in our society, and a loss of respect for the human person,” said Bishop Deliman in his homily for the occasion. “A renewed commitment (to) the value of family and domestic life is needed.”

Religious Leaders Council co-convener Rabbi David Strauss, Senior Rabbi at Main Line Reform Temple in Wynnewood, described gun violence as “a plague that we have created and that we have tolerated for far too long.”

Quoting the council’s recent statement on the May 24 mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, Rabbi Strauss said “we must advocate and will firmly push for serious and difficult conversations addressing the broad array of issues leading to the ongoing and avoidable slaughter.”

The scope of that carnage was underscored by the rally’s T-shirt display, part of the Philadelphia Memorial to the Lost, an extensive collection representing victims of gun violence. The array was assembled by Heeding God’s Call, whose executive director Bryan Miller – also in attendance for the rally — lost his own brother Michael, an FBI agent, during a 1994 ambush at Washington, D.C. police headquarters.

The shirts, like Philadelphia’s homicide victim tallies, “are not just names … (but) … mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, spouses and partners, children and grandchildren, neighbors and workers and friends,” said Rabbi Strauss. “These are … unique, special, priceless human beings.”

Raquel agreed, wiping away tears as she added her voice to those of the rally participants, who held a brief vigil at 1500 Market Street — where 21-year-old Khaleaf Sistrunk was shot dead in November 2020 – before staging a final demonstration at City Hall.

“I’ve been going through a lot,” said Raquel, adding that the loss of her cousin has left her “just feeling kind of lonely.”

Yet the rally brought comfort, she said.

“I was asking God yesterday for a sign of healing, for peace,” she said. “I saw my cousin’s name (on the shirt) … and I feel like that was his sign: ‘Your cousin is still with you.’”

The horrors of gun violence must ultimately be placed “within the context of hope,” since Christ has “(smashed) the chains of sin, death, hatred and hopelessness,” said Bishop Deliman.

“I believe in a man who was crucified, and three days later, he arose from the darkness of the tomb and promised we will rise as well,” he said.

“I feel like this was a sign right here,” said Raquel. “(My cousin) did not die in vain. He did not die; he’s still living.”

Participants at the June 9 rally carried T-shirts from the Philadelphia Memorial to the Lost, which commemorates individual victims of gun violence. (Gina Christian)