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FAITH COMMUNITIES JOIN IN PRAYER, ASSISTANCE IN NATIONAL CRISIS

September 11, 2001, NEW YORK CITY – Concerned to avert the danger of retaliatory actions against innocent people in the aftermath of Tuesday’s attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, state and local ecumenical and interfaith councils across the nation are pulling people of diverse faiths together for prayer and practical assistance. A quick survey by the National Council of Churches Communication Department found these examples:

"Remembering the false rush to judgment after the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City," the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington (www.interfaith-metrodc.org) is responding to the current national crisis with the message that all religions "teach the sanctity of human life" and "apply no veneer of respectability to slaughter carried out for personal vengeance or political purpose."

Embodying this message, the Conference is gathering leaders and members of diverse faith traditions to pray together at The Islamic Center (2551 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C.) at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, September 13. The public is invited to join people from the Bahai'i, Hindu-Jain, Islamic, Jewish, Latter-day Saints, Protestant, Roman Catholic and Sikh faiths, the members of the InterFaith Conference.

Following the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, many Muslims in U.S. communities suffered threats, harassment and incidents of violence. In the aftermath of Tuesday's attacks, the InterFaith Conference is one of many interfaith and ecumenical organizations around the country working to help forestall retaliatory actions in their communities. Other examples of this effort include:

Inter-Faith Ministries, Wichita, Kansas, whose executive director, the Rev. Sam Muyskens ( smuyskens@juno.com ) has called for calm and for prayer. Inter-Faith Ministries has welcomed persons of all faiths to a Tuesday prayer service at 7:00 p.m. Originally planned to be held at City Hall, the service was moved to First United Methodist Church in the downtown area, due to security concerns.

At this critical moment, Inter-Faith Ministries is demonstrating the gifts that a united interfaith community can offer. In addition to the service, the organization is fielding a trained interfaith Crisis Incident Stress Management team at the airport to offer support to the many people who had to land unexpectedly at Wichita. And they are cooperating with the Red Cross to offer housing to stranded travelers in churches and in dorms used by voluntary agencies.

The InterReligious Council of Central New York (IRC) (IRCCNY@aol.com), whose diverse community includes Jews and Palestinian Arabs and Christians. IRC's executive director, the Rev. Robert Hanson, noted that the organization's statement urging "calm and respect for our fellow human beings" was drafted with the help of a Jew, a Presbyterian and a Palestinian Muslim.

Despite such successes, the Rev. Hanson says he fears that the nation "has not yet figured out that it is the most religiously diverse country in the world" and that intolerance still exists. In response to this and other diversity issues, IRC has sponsored a community-wide program of dialogue circles on diversity that has trained 1,000 persons. The Rev. Hanson says the program has been a gift to the Syracuse area and has helped to make community meetings more productive. "This will be the real test" of its effectiveness, he said, referring to Tuesday's attacks.

The West Virginia Council of Churches (www.wvcc.org) and its member bodies, which has called for interfaith prayer vigils to be held throughout the state on or before September 16, in response to Tuesday's attacks. "We are encouraging all religious communities in the state to join together in prayer for all people," said the Rev. Nathan Wilson, the council's executive director. "At the same time, our faith calls us to discourage any retaliatory actions in response to what would appear to be terrorist activities."

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