Those who hijacked airliners to assault the Pentagon and World Trade Center might have intended to bring the nation to its knees in fear and humiliation, Howard County religious leaders say, but instead the acts have brought many in the community to their knees in prayer.
"Prayer is the most powerful thing God has given us," says the Rev. Isaac Karoor, and that is what many of the faithful will rely on in the wake of Tuesday's attacks.
"The hands and the weapons and the brains of our leaders are going to be guided by our prayer," said Karoor, associate pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Roman Catholic Church in Ellicott City. He intends, in his homily today, to impress upon his congregation the need to "gain an upper hand in prayer" against the "enemy."
The Rev. Mark Norman's sermon to his congregation at Grace Community Church in Columbia will "acknowledge our confidence that God is in control even when evil seems to be winning."
Most of the county's religious leaders revised their sermons to address last week's events. Rabbi Susan Grossman of Columbia's Beth Shalom Congregation said that the sermon she will give "again and again" is that "the faith we learned from Abraham is that even in the darkest hour there are always lights. ... [Reaching] that light ultimately rests on our moral will."
Grossman noted that when the Nazis killed Jews, they also killed non-Jews. "We stand together," she said, emphasizing that those who suffer and those who see the suffering must join in resistance.
Many congregations have been touched by personal associations with Tuesday's destruction: Karoor noted that more than 15 members of Our Lady of Perpetual Help prayed for people they know who work at the Pentagon or the World Trade Center.
A founding member of Columbia Presbyterian Church died at the Pentagon, as did a relative of a Grace Community member.
At Beth Shalom, one congregant's co-worker was aboard the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. At the Oakland Mills and Owen Brown Interfaith Centers, people prayed for loved ones in New York whose fates were unknown.
While the faith communities prayed for justice and judgment, they also prayed for the transformation of those who devise evil. "We pray always that the hearts of our enemies will turn so that they stop being our enemies," Grossman said.
"We are trying to remember," Norman said, "that God loves not just us, but the people who did the killing as well."
Faith communities throughout the nation responded Friday to President Bush's call to observe the day as a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance. Many county churches held noon prayer gatherings or other religious observances. A noon Mass was held at the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center and prayer vigils at Oakland Mills and Owen Brown interfaith centers. Many houses of worship stayed open all day for those who wished to enter and pray.
Students at county religious schools joined in noontime prayer. Bethel Christian Academy in Savage cut short its lunch hour by 15 minutes so that students could be back in their classrooms by noon to pray. Howard County public schools and administrative offices observed a five-minute period of silence at noon Friday.
On Friday afternoon, at its regular weekly services at Owen Brown Interfaith Center in Columbia, the Dar-Al-Taqwah Islamic community held a special "prayer for janaza" (prayer for those who have died), in support of all who lost friends or family in the attack. The Islamic group also is gathering donations for the relief efforts.
Rehan Dawer, activities coordinator for the community, said that it was a "good feeling" to be invited to join with other faith communities at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center on Tuesday. "We were very happy that they thought about us at [this] time," he said.
Dawer, who is awaiting status reports about a family member and colleagues from Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. in the World Trade Center wreckage, called the terrorism "an act of insanity [and] of complete craziness."
"We think about the feelings and the hardships that all the families and children and mothers and fathers have all felt," he said. "We all need to hold each other."
County gatherings for prayer, comfort and remembrance began Tuesday and continued throughout the week, as residents tried to comprehend and cope.
Prayer vigils were held Tuesday at all three of Columbia's interfaith centers, said George Martin, deacon at St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Community and a county interfaith leader. Members of Catholic, Moslem, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Jewish, Brethren, Baha'i and Unitarian congregations prayed, sang, read Scripture and lighted candles at the various gatherings.
A "sense of togetherness and concern for one another" were evident, Martin said.
On Wednesday night, Columbia Presbyterian Church was host of a "communitywide time of prayer." Michael O'Sullivan of Columbia was there with his wife, Dana, to pray for friends who were lost, for those who love them and for the rescue workers. So was Hal Wilson of Ellicott City.
"There's something special about coming together as a group," Wilson said, "knowing that God hears our prayers."
At Columbia Presbyterian Church's Wednesday service, they sang "Savior like a shepherd lead us, much we need thy tender care," and listened to the words of Psalm 46: "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in time of trouble."
"Violence breeds violence," said Martin. "We are called to love our enemies and those that hurt us."
"God will have the final word on this terrorist attack," the Rev. Norman said. "Our confidence is not in what we can see, but in what we can't see."