For many, response to terror is appeal for divine guidance

Churches, synagogues, mosques open doors for prayer, meditation

Counsel against despair

Terrorism Strikes America


September 12, 2001|By John Rivera and Laura Vozzella | John Rivera and Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

As the noon Mass at the Basilica of the Assumption concluded yesterday, the carillon began to toll.

The mournful peal of the bells is normally heard after a funeral. But it seemed appropriate, as many who felt they lost something gathered to pray.

As the shock and horror of yesterday's terrorist attacks began to sink in, churches, synagogues and mosques opened their doors for formal services, shared petition and quiet meditation.

Distraught, Roxanne Stephens, an office manager at a downtown law firm, heard the bells ringing at Old St. Paul's Episcopal Church. Although she is not Episcopalian, she felt drawn inside.

"I came here because deep in my heart I believe there is a Higher Being," she said, choking back tears. "I had to express my sorrow, my grief, my immense pain for those people who lost their lives. And just pray a better day will come."

Inside Old St. Paul's, as the organist began to play America the Beautiful, Joelle Kutsiukis, a Hampden clothing store owner, turned toward the back of the church and beckoned her fellow congregants forward.

"Come on," she urged. "Come on up here. Come on, everyone, let's be together! Let's sing this together." They packed into two pews, old and young, men and women, hugging, squeezing hands and trying to summon the breath they needed for the high notes: "A-mer-i-ca, A-mer-i-ca, God shed his grace on thee!" When the hymn ended, they remained, heads bowed, standing together until the bells stopped.

Across Maryland, the nation and the world, it was the church bells that sounded a clarion of national tragedy and comforted the distressed and grieving as religious leaders denounced the violence and told their flocks not to despair.

"We must look for ways to lift up the principle that hate and violence have no place in our world," said Cardinal William H. Keeler, archbishop of Baltimore.

The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, dedicated its entire front page to the attacks. The Vatican said Pope John Paul II was praying "for the eternal rest of the numerous victims and to give courage and comfort to their families."

The American Jewish Committee called on Americans to stand together. "This act of war today is a rallying call ... to confront the scourge of international terrorism," AJC officials wrote in a letter to President Bush.

At the Basilica in downtown Baltimore, three bishops and five priests, wearing the white vestments of resurrection, concelebrated a Mass in Times of War or Civil Disturbance.

"It's only through our faith, our respect and our love that we can overcome the evil that we witnessed today," Bishop William C. Newman said in his sermon.

At a noon service at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in North Baltimore, about two dozen people gathered to receive communion - from one another. "On a day like this, it's so important to remember we feed each other," the Rev. Thelma Smullen said.

In Columbia, people of different faiths felt called to pray together. Jews, Muslims and three Christian congregations held an evening prayer service at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center.

Under the Star of David, Islam's crescent moon and other symbols of world religions, about 85 people prayed for the victims, their families - and for those responsible for the attacks. "I cannot imagine the bleakness of soul ... and I feel compelled to pray for those souls as well," said the Rev. Victoria Weinstein of Channing Memorial Church.

Rehan A. Dawer of Columbia, a member of the Dar-Al-Taqwa mosque and a vice president at Morgan Stanley, which occupied 50 floors in the two towers, told those gathered of how had spent the day desperately trying to learn the fate of his colleagues there. But he had no information. "I ask you to think about their lives tonight," he said, crying.

At the Masjid Al-Ramah in Woodlawn, Muslims gathered for midday prayers, adding a petition for the injured and dead.

"Of course we totally detest this act," said Omar Mustafa, president of the Islamic Society of Baltimore, which administers the mosque. "This is an act of godless men. It is not an act of men with any concept of God."

But news reports that the acts may have been committed by groups with Muslim ties has mosque officials worried. "Of course we're concerned about security," Mustafa said.

Prayer for the victims was not limited to houses of worship. At the Towson Courthouse plaza, a group of 20 women gathered in a circle, joined hands and began to pray.

"We pray for our nation, we pray for our leaders," said Ruby Gillian, who works in the county's Office of Information Technology and is a minister at Morning Star Baptist Church in Catonsville. "We don't know why this is happening, but even in the middle of the storm, God is to be glorified."

At Mercy Medical Center downtown, a priest entered an elevator full of people as some of them were discussing friends and relatives in New York and Washington whose fate was unknown.

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