Pastors lead prayers for beleaguered city

Appeals: Religious and political leaders begin a weekend of spiritual activities aimed at reducing violence in Baltimore.

November 17, 2001|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

With the pealing of church bells and the blowing of a ram's horn, a group of religious leaders and city officials began a weekend of prayer, fasting and repentance yesterday in the hope of reducing crime and violence on Baltimore's streets.

On a flag-draped stage in the shadow of City Hall, ministers rose to pray and preach against the shootings, drugs and domestic violence afflicting city neighborhoods, as Mayor Martin O'Malley lamented that "we still have far too much death, far too much despair."

The ministers, with O'Malley's backing, launched Peace for the City, the second three-day weekend of prayer and fasting that began at 6 a.m. yesterday. At noon today, they will conduct simultaneous prayer rallies in each of the city's nine police districts.

Yesterday, they gathered at noon at War Memorial Plaza with the mayor, other city officials and more than 100 others and offered prayers for deliverance from violent crime and for God's help for politicians, police, firefighters and teachers.

"Oh, God, in East Baltimore, in West Baltimore, in South Baltimore, in Northeast Baltimore, all over our city we are being infiltrated with violence and crime, crime of every nature, crime on every corner," said the Rev. H. Walden Wilson, pastor of Israel Baptist Church in East Baltimore.

"We've seen too many fathers and mothers weep over the graves of their children," Wilson said. "Prayers have gone up, and we are waiting for your blessings to come down, that our streets will be safe, the corners will be safe, that violence will come to an end."

The Rev. Bryan Claxton, pastor of the New Creation Christian Center, prayed for schools and teachers.

"I am a product ... of Baltimore City schools, and the Baltimore City schools need prayer," he said. "It's not just time for prayer for schools. It's time for prayer in schools."

O'Malley, who read a proclamation officially declaring the three days of "citywide prayer and fasting," said his administration has made impressive inroads against violent crime and drug addiction.

"But we don't do it alone," he said. "Ultimately, we're not the ones who write the script. ... It's not just about action but faith and having the humility to acknowledge we can't accomplish anything without God's help."

The day of prayer was organized by a group of Pentecostal ministers led by the Rev. Bart Pierce, pastor of Rock City Church in Towson. This year, organizers are hoping the mood of the city after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks will make people even more receptive to their entreaties.

"We saw with 9/11 how much comfort moments of prayer brought to so many people," Pierce said. "We hope it just brings an awareness, no matter what is happening in the country and world, that prayer is so needed and prayer is a silent but powerful force."

Leon Pinkett, an aide to West Baltimore Democratic Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., spent his lunch hour holding his 4-month-old daughter Sydney as he prayed along with the ministers. He had faith, he said, that their efforts would bear fruit.

Lois Colletti, a parishioner at the St. Jude Shrine, a Roman Catholic church downtown, said she felt that the gathering was "a great blessing."

"If people have faith in God, it will work," she said. "Prayer works."

As the hourlong service concluded, Pierce asked all those present to stretch out their arms, palms extended in a blessing toward City Hall. They turned toward the former Fire Department headquarters, at Gay and Lexington Streets, to bless the city's firefighters, and then toward police headquarters, across Fayette Street from the War Memorial, to bless Baltimore officers.

"We declare peace to the city!" Pierce shouted. "As Jesus stood on the bow of the boat and declared peace to the storm, we declare with authority, peace to the city!"

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