Maryland eases pain in prayer

Churches: Thousands flock to the first Sunday services since Tuesday's terrorist attacks seeking counsel, solace.

Terrorism Strikes America

The Nation

September 17, 2001|By Michael Hill and Gerard Shields | Michael Hill and Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

The sound of patriotic hymns and the solace of soothing words were heard yesterday as Christian churches across the region celebrated their first Sunday services since Tuesday's terrorist attacks.

"Many have said that we are a nation in decline," Monsignor Joseph Luca told the worshippers at St. Louis Catholic Church in Clarksville. "But our reaction to these events shows our true character, our great strength and character, our compassion and self sacrifice. ... We are a great people."

At the New Psalmist Baptist Church in West Baltimore, the congregation sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and heard the Rev. Walter S. Thomas warn against the desire for retribution.

Thomas read the Bible story of Jesus on the Mount of Olives just before the crucifixion telling his disciples to lay down their swords.

"He said, `That's enough talk of swords, let's go to God,'" Thomas shouted, speaking to three services that each attracted overflow crowds of more than 2,000. "He that lives by the sword, dies by the sword. We need another weapon."

There was a larger crowd than usual at St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church, the Jesuit parish downtown at Calvert and Madison streets, where the Rev. Robert J. Braunreuther sounded a similar theme, attempting to reconcile the earthly desire to strike back with the Christian principle of turning the other cheek.

He urged that the United States, as "a nation of law," should act "with restraint, not revenge" in dealing with terrorists, the same way Christ had "acted with restraint" during his crucifixion.

A large congregation was at Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church in Bolton Hill to hear the Rev. Roger Gench preach on the "holy city, the new Jerusalem" of the Book of Revelation that is pictured in the church's stained glass windows. He noted that depiction bears a resemblance to the shattered walls of the World Trade Center towers that stood above the mound of wreckage.

Gench also said that last week's events caused people to question the existence of God, urging his listeners to follow the text from the Book of Isaiah that calls on believers to be witnesses to the world for God.

At Leadenhall Baptist Church in South Baltimore, the Rev. Eddie R. Wilson referred to the Book of Chronicles to help explain Tuesday's events.

Wilson viewed the carnage as being similar to the wrath that has happened to people locked in holy wars stretching all the way back through the Old Testament.

"God will heal the land," Wilson said, "if we will seek him."

The Rev. John LaCount of the Middle River Assembly of God tried to ease the fears of his congregation by stressing that God is still in control. LaCount tried to make a distinction between revenge and justice. "Vengeance is the Lord's," he said. "What we prayed for is justice."

At New Psalmist, Thomas said Americans should use the terrorist attacks as an occasion to take a inventory of their lives and what he termed every-day acts of terrorism,

"Racism and sexism is terrorism," Thomas said. "Pushing your ideas on to somebody else is terrorism. It's about what people will do to get their own way."

Thomas said the desire for retribution is normal. "Don't try to sit in this church and say that you are above revenge," he said. "When somebody does us wrong, we want to respond.

"America has been violated, our lifestyle has been attacked," Thomas added. "There has to be some sort of response."

Thomas' message struck a chord with one member of the congregation, Sheri Mitchell of Bowie.

"Somehow we need to show the people who did this that we love them because they must have hated us an awful lot," Mitchell said. "And if we hate back, there's no end to the terror."

Nearly 1,200 people tried to get into the 9:30 a.m. service at St. Louis Catholic Church, a Howard County place of worship that seats about 750. They spilled out the doors onto the sidewalk. A spray of red, white and blue flowers sat at the front of the church, next to an American flag and a Bible that was opened to the 23rd Psalm.

"I have always said that anything bad that happens to me can make me bitter or better," Luca said. "Let us decide that what has happened to us will make us a better nation. I think it already has."

Luca warned the parishioners about making inappropriate judgments about Muslims and the ethnic groups that have become associated with Tuesday's attack. He reminded them that when Catholics first came to the United States in large numbers during the 19th century, they were subjected to such prejudice.

"They were considered aliens who did not have an allegiance to this nation, but to some foreign religion," he said.

At the end of his remarks, the congregation sang "God Bless America" and paused for a minute of silence, the only noises coming from crying babies and chattering toddlers. Tears flowed freely.

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