Religious communities contemplate war and peace

Congregations provide prayers and comfort

April 18, 2003|By Bethany Broida | Bethany Broida,SUN STAFF

As images and news about the war in Iraq have loomed in recent weeks, Howard County religious leaders have been focusing on messages of peace.

Members of many area churches and synagogues have been straddling the fine line between support for U.S. troops overseas and discussing whether the war is just. Whether their members have supported the war or opposed military action, many congregations simply prayed for a peaceful and just resolution.

"Our congregation is very divided about this particular war," said Rabbi Sonya Starr of Columbia Jewish Congregation. "We discuss the Jewish point of view on war. Is there such a thing as a just war? We are not pacifists as a religion, and especially after the Holocaust we accept the need for war. So the question becomes when?"

She said that most of her congregants agreed that Saddam Hussein had been a terrible man and that something needed to be done, but they felt conflicted as to whether the war was the right way to accomplish that objective. Members have friends and family overseas and in Israel, so the conflict for them was very personal.

Faiths come together

Bon Secours Spiritual Center in Marriottsville was host for an interfaith panel consisting of Jewish, Muslim, Roman Catholic, Lutheran and B'hai leaders who spent the day discussing the importance of peace, how different religions addressed peace and how peace can be an option, even in the midst of war.

"People's stress levels are up in general, and there is a higher level of concern about the condition of the world," said Rev. Thomas Connar of Mount Zion Methodist Church in Highland. Members of his congregation responded to the war by including names of active duty military in the church bulletin, and Sunday school students took up a collection for items such as message cards and toiletries to send to the troops stationed in the Middle East.

Two church members are deployed in the Middle East, and while the church is trying to be attentive to the families' needs, Connar said, they are getting support from many places.

For his congregation, Connar said, the issue before the war was whether the United States should be involved in the conflict, but once it was in it, "we strive to support the troops and pray for peace."

Other churches have candles, prayer sessions and books listing names of friends and family members on active duty. Seven congregations that gather in the Oakland Mills Meeting House banded together to pray for peace during an interfaith prayer vigil yesterday.

Many religious leaders incorporated discussions of the war into their services. All of the priests at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Fulton mentioned what was going on in the Middle East since talk of war began, said Berta Sabrio, director of music and liturgy at the parish. "It is easy to incorporate them into homilies," Sabrio said.

Facing war

Sabrio said that the parish has a liturgy written specifically for the war. It says, "For all of those facing the threat of war and for their families." She explained that the wording is meant to include all those facing war because war is not in Iraq alone, but all over the world.

A few months before the war in Iraq, the Rev. John L. Wright of First Baptist Church of Guilford, established a military ministry to provide comfort and aid to his church members who are in the military.

The congregation includes a number of retired and active duty military personnel, Wright said, and the families are not familiar with policies and procedures or whom they should contact. The military ministry was set up to help them. "Our parishioners are in Iraq, and back here we have concerns," he said.

What is most important, said Rabbi Mark Panoff at Temple Isaiah in Columbia, is discussion. People need a forum to get out their thoughts and feelings. Everyone has questions, he said. "It is certainly on people's minds."

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