By Ed Langlois
Catholic News Service
PORTLAND, Ore. (CNS) — The morning after police in Portland arrested 14 demonstrators at dueling political protests, about 800 worshippers turned out in a unified show of support for a man whose heroic act transcended division.
Ricky Best was laid to rest in Willamette National Cemetery in Portland June 5 after a funeral Mass at a packed Christ the King Church in the suburb of Milwaukie. On hand were Christians, Muslims, Jews, peace activists and members of a motorcycle club that backs President Donald Trump.
“Many of us consider him a hero. Many of us in the church consider him a martyr,” said Msgr. Richard Paperini, pastor of Christ the King.
Best, a 53-year-old city of Portland employee, was one of three men who stepped forward May 26 to defend two teens on a Portland commuter train. The girls, one in a Muslim headscarf and the other black, were the target of an anti-Muslim and racist verbal attack from 35-year-old Jeremy Christian.
When Best — along with 23-year-old Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche and 21-year-old Micah Fletcher — spoke up, Christian pulled a knife and slashed at the men. Best and Namkai-Meche died and Fletcher was hospitalized. Police apprehended Christian, who has been arraigned on charges of aggravated murder.
One of the girls, 16-year-old Destinee Mangum, attended the funeral with her family.
During the Mass, Best’s 19-year-old son spoke to the crowd.
“I look into my father’s eyes and I see the love of God made manifest,” Erik Best, a Clackamas Community College student, said in a halting voice. “He loved everyone.”
The whole family wore white headbands, a symbol of mourning and honor in the Vietnamese tradition of Myhanh, Best’s wife.
“We are grateful to Ricky for the example he gave us,” Msgr. Paperini said during his homily, citing the Gospel reading from St. John, which said in part: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” He told the Best family that the parish stands with them now and will stand with them in the future.
“He saw the opportunity to love as a privilege,” said Msgr. Paperini, who recalled Best once telling him: “It’s really not about us, but about our ability to be there for others.”
Portland Archbishop Alexander K. Sample, who attended the funeral, said Best fulfilled the call of those who follow Jesus, an act that will live on in memory and change the world for the better. The archbishop said even he asks “why?” when tragedies happen, but over time, “I always see the good God is able to draw out of the most horrible of human tragedies.”
He said Best’s act of heroism has already borne fruit, drawing together Christians and Muslims in a mutual stand against hate and violence.
Harris Zafar of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Portland told mourners he wishes he could thank Best in the flesh.
“I would thank him for being the father I strive to be and the human being I strive to be,” Zafar said. “I would tell him thank you for helping me be able to go home to my kids and say, ‘Daddy was wrong. Superheroes do exist.'”
Zafar cited the Quran, which says that if you kill one, it’s as if you have killed all; and if you save a life, it is as if you saved all.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley attended the funeral and greeted the family.
As the funeral procession wound up Mount Scott to the cemetery, citizens lined the road, waved flags and saluted.
At the cemetery, more than 50 flag-carrying motorcyclists welcomed the hearse. Best, who served in the Army for 23 years, was buried with full military honors. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown was on hand to help present the casket flag to his wife.
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Langlois is managing editor of the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland.