500 pray and sing for peace at candlelight vigil downtown

Somber rally among many held across the world

March 17, 2003|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

On the eve of President Bush's deadline for diplomacy over war, hundreds of people encircled Baltimore's Washington Monument last night, clutching candles and holding signs declaring, "No Iraq War" and "War Is Not The Answer" - a small action that was part of a worldwide vigil for peace.

Collectively called Global Vigil for Peace, the vigil was one of more than 2,500 candlelight gatherings, beginning in New Zealand, that crossed the planet in protest of the anticipated U.S.-led war with Iraq. The Mount Vernon gathering was one of nine in the Baltimore area bringing together scores of men, women and children to stand united for peace at colleges, churches and corners.

"The plan for war is likely to kill tens of thousands of Iraqis but will also unleash hate. Violence does truly beget violence," said Sarah Bur, a Quaker standing at the foot of the Washington Monument with 7-year-old son Devin Gillespie at her side. "I've been demonstrating at vigils for 20 years, and I've never felt one was more important than tonight."

In contrast to thousands of boisterous rallies opposing war in the past month, the monument vigil organized by the American Service Friends Committee was meditative and somber as more than 500 people gathered to pray, sing songs and express the tenets of nonviolence.

By 7 p.m., the base of the monument was aglow with a flickering sea of candles. The gathering spilled into the intersection of Charles and Monument streets, slowing traffic.

Mount Vernon resident Nolan Rollins, 30, didn't know what was happening outside his window, but when he learned it was a peace protest, the son of a 28-year Army veteran slipped on his shoes and joined the crowd.

Rollins said that for the second time in 13 years, war has destabilized his family - his father was deployed in the Persian Gulf war and again for a possible war against Iraq.

After reading Psalm 34 to the crowd, Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton of Congregation Beit Tikvah in Roland Park said she attended because there needs to be "a progressive religious voice saying that there is no moral justification on God's earth" for war.

"Fighting tyranny is a moral imperative," Bolton said of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, "but there is much, much, much more that we can do."

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