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RESPONSE Religious leaders: Prayer and tolerance are needed



Published: Sun, September 16, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The local faith community responded to the tragedy with messages of love.

By D.A. WILKINSON

VINDICATOR RELIGION EDITOR

YOUNGSTOWN -- While the government plans a military response to terror after the attacks on the United States, the religious community sees itself responding with more love.

Religious leaders are appalled by the destruction and loss of human life, but the faith community is already looking at new action to promote tolerance and harmony, the cornerstones of their beliefs.

And in many ways, it's already begun.

Consider the comparison of the suicide airplane attacks Tuesday on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., with the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

The situation then: In the wake of Pearl Harbor, Japanese-Americans were rounded up and placed in internment camps.

The Rev. Jay Alford, pastor of Highway Tabernacle in Austintown, said, "Many of them were more American than we were."

Yet, there was no outcry over their treatment, the Rev. Mr. Alford recalled.

"They were treated pretty shabbily," he said.

Likewise, there was limited spiritual recognition immediately after World War II of the horrors faced by Jews in the Holocaust.

It's taken decades for the faith community to come to grips with the Holocaust, said the Rev. Donald King, pastor of Blessed Sacrament in Warren.

The response now: Within hours of the attacks last week, the faith community responded with messages of love and subtle and direct responses to Muslim-bashing.

At multifaith services in the Mahoning Valley, Christians, Jews and Muslims came together and were deliberately mixed during worship, said Elsie Dursi, executive director of the Mahoning Valley Association of Churches.

At the national level, the American Muslim Council called for last Friday, Islam's weekly holy day, to be a national day of prayer. And the American Jewish Committee asked people to avoid stereotyping and scapegoating Muslims.

Mr. Alford was in a business meeting Tuesday to discuss building more homes for the needy in Youngstown when he heard of the attacks. A Jewish man was among those present. And they all prayed together at that moment.

"When you don't know what to do, pray," said Mr. Alford.

Gathering: Unprecedented numbers of people packed area churches after the attacks to pray for comfort and answers, pastors said.

That shows people are seeking God, Mr. Alford said.

Dr. Thomas Carr, a professor of religion and philosophy at Mount Union College in Alliance, said there is a great opportunity now for the faith community to expand its activities. If faiths don't, the job of religious education and promotion of tolerance will fall to educational institutions, he said.

The educator said he is skeptical that faiths can reach out during the hawkish climate now prevalent among some conservative evangelical churches and segments of the public.

But area faith leaders agreed they will be doing more in the new day in America.

Dursi sees what must be done as simply "more of the same."

There is more apathy locally than intolerance, and when it comes to spreading messages of God's love and hope, some churches get it more than others, she said.

Mr. Alford sees both change and a return to American core values.

Immediate problems would appear to be such impasses as those between Muslims and Jews -- U.S. support for Israel is considered a factor in the attacks -- and continued squabbling between various factions in a given religion.

'One nation under God': But Mr. Alford doesn't see a need to be divided over religion and doctrine.

Different faiths aren't ever going to agree on some points, but they don't have to, he said.

"We have to reach a place of acceptance for each other," Mr. Alford said.

The Catholic Diocese of Youngstown has called for Oct. 4 to be a "Day of Reconciliation and Peace," on the Feast of St. Francis, a preacher of peace.

"With so many wonderful opportunities for prayer already taking place, the diocese wants to offer a tangible way for people in our communities to not only come together in prayer, but to make a positive difference in our communities by reconciling with each other and by reaching out to others in personal works of kindness and charity, said Bishop Thomas J. Tobin.

Condemning misuse: Rabbi Simeon Kolko of Congregation Ohev Tzedek Shaarei Torah in Boardman said religions should look within themselves to weed out intolerance and provide positive messages. Faiths should also clearly disown those who misuse religion for hate, he said.

Ultimately, it takes "fearless integrity and honesty" for people to see what they, and their faith communities, must do, the rabbi said.




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