Remembering Sept. 11 with calls for unity, peace

Gatherings try to make sense of tragedy, collect aid for Katrina victims

September 12, 2005|By Greg Barrett | Greg Barrett,SUN STAFF

If there is ever to be world peace, Muslims and Jews and Christians agreed yesterday, it would begin in meetings like this.

In a downtown mosque so new its ventilation dangles from the rafters and its Egyptian chandelier rests on the floor, clergy and congressmen came together to raise money for a natural disaster and raise awareness in light of a manmade one.

Even in events as cataclysmic as Hurricane Katrina and the Sept. 11 attacks, there is good, said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Baptist, the son of a preacher and, at least for a few moments yesterday, a resonating voice of conscience for Muslims, Jews and Christians gathered at the Islamic Community Center.

"The Bible says all things work together for good," Cummings said, his baritone filling the inaugural Unity Prayer Breakfast. "I believe these catastrophes come together to make us stronger."

On a cloudless day that shone as brightly as on Sept. 11, 2001, members of diverse religions bonded over breakfast and prayer, runners and walkers raised money for hurricane relief, and a chain of war protesters formed on Charles Street.

"Go Ravens - and go peace!" someone in a car shouted to protesters gathered for the Women in Black's fourth annual Peace Path.

Clearly the city's attention was divided yesterday between events tragic and exhilarating. Seven hours before the Baltimore Ravens' season opener, there appeared to be more purple jerseys downtown than people holding vigil for peace or in memory of Sept. 11.

Peter D. Molan of Veterans for Peace stood alone on the corner of Lombard and Charles streets with a sign stating, "Peace is Patriotic." This was the fourth consecutive year the Baltimore chapter of Veterans for Peace had supported the Peace Path, organized by the city's chapter of Women in Black, an international peace group. Two years ago the Peace Path was connected block-by-block for several miles from the Inner Harbor to the Beltway, he said.

Yesterday, Molan, a former Middle East analyst for the Defense Department, said participation had dropped off. Protesters were mostly clumped together or loosely strung out, and the chain was broken for long stretches. Early in the afternoon, the closest large group to Molan was three-quarters of a mile away.

The demonstration for peace was peaceful. A man near the Inner Harbor stood silently on a corner and held up two fingers in a peace sign; others silently waved signs that tallied the deaths of U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Another sign simply stated, "Peace, hon."

In yesterday's fourth annual Run to Remember, Sept. 11 gave way to a more recent disaster. In the past, the 5K run and 1-mile walk have raised money for police and fire department foundations. This year, those groups directed all money raised - organizers expected between $25,000 and $30,000 - to the American Red Cross' Hurricane Katrina fund.

Charity, too, was the topic at the Islamic Community Center, which opened July 22 in the former Provident Savings Bank building on North Howard Street. Men and women wearing the Jewish yarmulke or Muslim hijab or the Christian clerical collar prayed together for the victims of Katrina - and for a more peaceful, unified world.

"There is no place in the world for ignorance and hate," said Imam Earl El Amin of Baltimore's Muslim Cultural Center. "Let us together form and shape the best world for humanity."

El Amin told the parable of the little boy who climbs a mountain with his father and discovers an echo. Not realizing what he's hearing, the boy shouts compliments and receives compliments in return.

"You are a champion."

"You are a champion."

He shouts insults and receives insults in return.

"You are a coward."

"You are a coward."

Frustrated, he turns to his father, who explains: "People call this an echo. But in reality, this is life."

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, who is Jewish, told the gathering of about 50 people, "I don't like the word tolerance - and I hear it a lot. We need to understand and respect everyone in our community."

Cummings encouraged everyone to be a light for others to see. In the cry for help from victims of terrorism or hurricanes, Cummings said, there are opportunities for parents to practice their faith and for children to witness it.

Outside the mosque, bags of clothing, diapers, baby food and toiletries were being collected. Cummings said the charity spurred by Sept. 11 and Hurricane Katrina makes society stronger. "Good can come from bad," he repeated.

Cummings' 73-year-old father died five years ago after giving a sermon to 600 female prisoners in Jessup, Cummings said.

"Here's a man who's never been arrested in his life, and he died in prison," he said. "What good is there in that?"

Long after his father's funeral, an ex-inmate told Cummings that prisoners who had witnessed his death had formed a prayer group because of it. The group held together even after the prisoners were released.

"And she said few of the prisoners in it had gone back" to prison, Cummings said. "So you see, because of his death, there was light."

Sun staff writer Anica Butler contributed to this article.

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