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RELIGION Faith community gathers for prayer



Published: Wed, September 12, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Some hymns were sung in English and repeated in Hebrew.

VINDICATOR STAFF REPORT

YOUNGSTOWN -- Valley residents gathered in places of worship Tuesday evening in response to terrorist attacks on American soil.

Eight religious leaders from various faiths joined about 75 people in St. John's Episcopal Church in Youngstown to pray. Muslims, Hebrews, Catholics, Presbyterians and Episcopalians sang hymns, read prayers and offered blessings to the community, the nation and the world.

Some began crying as soon as the organ music started.

"We have seen things we never thought we'd see," said the Rev. John Horner, church rector. "Our biggest job is to pray tonight in our bewilderment."

Some hymns, such as the peace prayer "Shalom My Friends," were sung in English and repeated in Hebrew.

Tears: "I stand here this evening as a rabbi, but mostly as a mourner ... with all of you," said Rabbi Frank Muller of Temple Rodef Sholom. "Jewish folklore says that when we shed tears, God sheds tears with us."

Islamic worshippers at the Islamic Society of Greater Youngstown offered a prayer for the souls of those affected by the day's tragedy. This mosque, on Harmon Street, was inaugurated in 1989 and is a place of worship for about 300 families.

"We strongly condemn this morning's plane attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and express deep sorrow for Americans that were injured," said Dr. Iftikhar Chatha, society president.

Investigation: Although many across the country place blame for the attack on terrorists with Middle Eastern associations, society members asked for investigation before action.

"It is important for the American people to know that Islam does not call for acts like this horrific act," said Ayman Saleh, a member of the mosque. "It is a religion of peace."

Both the Islamic and Jewish communities expected to resume normal operations today.

Officials with the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation said that although the Jewish Community Center in Youngstown closed early Tuesday, it would be open all day today.

Members of the Islamic Society of Greater Youngstown said prayer services would continue as planned.

Boardman Ministerial Association held a prayer vigil at St. Charles Church on U.S. Route 224. Several pastors from various churches in the Boardman community were on hand.

Shock: The Rev. Robert F. Shonholz, pastor at St. Mark's Evangelical Lutheran Church, said the faith community is shocked that something like this would happen in the United States. He said situations such as this, however, are a time for coming together.

"The faith community here, while divided theologically, is united in the suffering felt around the country," he said. "This is an act driven by hatred, and we pray that hatred is removed."

He told a standing room-only crowd of about 1,200 in the church that while many people are looking for revenge, it is important to remember that no specific nationality or race is responsible for the attacks. It's a small group of individuals who are being scorned around the world, he noted.

There was no revenge in the bloodshot eyes of Maggie Streb, an Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield employee, as she entered the church. Streb said she heard the news while still at work and immediately thought of her children.

"I make it a point to kiss my kids everyday," she said with a cracking voice and tears in her eyes. "It pains me to know that some of those moms will never see their children again."

Georgia Lauer of Boardman, a schoolteacher, was administering a test at Sheridan Elementary School in Youngstown when she heard the news.

Lauer said several teachers at the school held hands in prayer in an empty classroom in the building after the tragedy was explained to the pupils. She attended the vigil because the pastor at her home church happened to be on vacation and she felt this is definitely a time for prayer.

Concern for family: Some, like 15-year-old Grace Beish, just wanted to pray for family members -- such as her brother who is in the military.

In Warren, people gathered at First Presbyterian Church on Mahoning Avenue N.W. and at Blessed Sacrament on Reeves Road for interfaith prayer vigils.

The Rev. William Michael Youngblood, senior pastor at First Presbyterian, joined associate pastor Larry Graham-Johnson and other area clergy, for the interfaith service.

The parish nurse and clergy were made available afterward to provide counseling.

"Everybody has a connection to this somewhere," Graham-Johnson said before the service. "We need to try somehow and make sense of this."

More than 170 people attended the service and were invited to light candles and express their feelings.

Patricia Gruver of Austintown, a member of the Warren church, described the mood at an open service held before the vigil this way: "Since I've been here, it's been quiet ... grief ... probably disbelief."

A tragedy of this scope crosses every boundary that divides us as a people, Graham-Johnson said.

"It touches every fiber of a community," he said. "Who is safe anymore? It's like the world has suddenly gone crazy."




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