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Religious leaders offer prayers and hymns
for Gold Star mothers waiting to see Bush

by Philip E. Jenks

New York, August 12, 2005.  NCC General Secretary Bob Edgar and other religious leaders paid a pastoral visit today on a grieving United Methodist Gold Star mother who is standing vigil outside President Bush's Crawford, Tex., ranch.

Celeste Zappala (pictured), whose son, Sherwood, was killed in Iraq, has joined other Gold Star mothers in an effort to meet with Mr. Bush during his month-long vacation.

Edgar, along with retired United Methodist Bishop Joe Wilson, Professor-emeritus William McElvaney of Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, publisher Andrew J. Weaver, the Rev. Diane Baker of the United Church of Christ, and others, traveled to the Crawford compound to support the women in their efforts to see the President.

Gold Star mother Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed in Iraq, has attracted international attention by her insistence on talking with Bush. The President has said he understands how Sheehan and others feel but has no plans to meet with them.

Edgar and other religious leaders traveled to Crawford at Zappala's invitation. "I plan to go to Crawford ... to stand with (Sheehan) and to speak for my son Sherwood," Zappala wrote. "I hope the religious community will step up and support our witness. I think it is akin to the witness of all of the non-violent advocates who came before us. We are speaking truth to power."

Edgar said the purpose of the visit to the Gold Star mothers "is not political or partisan. Anyone who would suggest that vastly underestimates the pain these sisters feel." Edgar said he expected the President to meet with the women "because he is a good man who knows it is the right and compassionate thing to do."

Standing in the famously hot Crawford sun, Edgar gathered together Gold Star family members, onlookers and media representatives for a half-hour worship service.

"It was a very appropriate service," said Bishop Wilson, who read two Psalms and the Beatitudes of Jesus. "It was like a love feast."

Professor McElvaney, who is also former President of St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Mo., described the service as "a gathering of the people to provide comfort and support" for families who have lost loved-ones in Iraq.

Prayers of the people were offered and hymns were sung. Participants shared memories of their lost children. At the end of the service, the group turned in silence to face crosses inscribed with the names of the dead.

Edgar released the following statement:

"We come to Crawford out of pastoral love and concern for our United Methodist sister, Celeste Zappala, our sister in Christ, Cindy Sheehan, and all who have given the ultimate sacrifice in our nationís current war.

"This is not a political or partisan visit. Anyone who would suggest that vastly underestimates the pain these sisters feel - the pain that is felt by all who have lost loved ones in this war, regardless of their ideology or political opinions.

"Cindy Sheehan and Celeste Zappala are asking to meet with President Bush so they can receive his personal assurances that their terrible sacrifice of their sons, Casey Sheehan and Sherwood Zappala, has not been in vain. I have no doubt that the President will meet with them soon because he is a good man who knows it is the right and compassionate thing to do. The President has said he is also pained by the tragedy of death and injury in war, and our pastoral advice is to him is that he will be greatly strengthened by this opportunity for dialogue with those who have made the sacrifice.

"This will also be an opportunity for the President to articulate more clearly the rationale for the war. Polls show that millions of Americans are unclear about that rationale. Nearly 12,000 persons have written to the National Council of Churchesí FaithfulAmerica to express their profound doubts about the war.

"But today the focus is on Cindy and Celeste and other mothers who gave all to a war they are increasingly unable to understand. Their meeting with President Bush, which I fully expect to happen soon, will be an important part of their healing.

"In the meantime, we call on all Americans to join us in prayerful support for these women and their families."

Contact NCC News: Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2252,

On-site contact: Rev. Andrew Weaver, 212-920-9296


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