Local News Archive
Print Issue: September 19, 2002
Civic, Religious Leaders Attend Atlanta Interfaith Service
ATLANTA - A Muslim with big, expressive eyes mournfully chanted from the Quran of overcoming evil through goodness; two Buddhist monks danced as they hit hand drums; a Hindu read a prayer for peace from the Vedas; and a pair of rabbis read a psalm in Hebrew.
As Atlanta religious leaders of many faiths came together on the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, they expressed common values of peace, love and justice and a desire to build bridges of understanding.
The service of remembrance was held at Ebenezer Baptist Church, sponsored by the Faith Alliance of Metro Atlanta. The group of Christian, Muslim and Jewish faith leaders, including Msgr. Henry Gracz, pastor of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Atlanta, came together after Sept. 11 to find ongoing ways to work cooperatively.
Among the rainbow of religious leaders present was Archbishop John F. Donoghue.
Creating a spirit of hope, about 50 young people from the Atlanta International Youth Chorus, dressed in black with colorful sashes across their chests, sang songs from various countries. Jeffrey MacIntyre of the Shrine was organist. The music included Argentinian and Hebrew folk songs and "We Are Walking in the Light of God" in Zulu.
In "One Small Step" the youth sang, "But a dream is still a dream unless we do our part: feed the hungry, help the poor, giving of our heart."
Present was Gov. Roy Barnes who said America's greatness lies in its democratic system and in continually striving to more fully realize the ideals set forth over 200 years ago. The terrorists attacked American symbols because of their hatred of its ideals of freedom, tolerance and opportunity, he said.
"We must always see clearly that this was an attack on the principles that make our nation great. If we do that, our memory will be more than mourning. It will remind us we can never take our freedom for granted and way of life for granted. And it will remind us that sometimes we must fight to uphold things we believe in," he said.
Heroes include those who died in the terrorist attacks and the veterans, who died for what is true and just and to keep America "great and free." He spoke of the gift those heroes of Sept. 11 gave the rest of the country. "Sept. 11 was a reminder that we should treasure the rhythms and patterns and simple moments of everyday life."
As they embrace life, Ebenezer's pastor Dr. Joseph Roberts Jr. asked people to embrace those different from them.
"Isn't it shameful and tragic that we of different faith and non-faith traditions do not assemble ourselves together in like manner unless forced to by external circumstances over which we seem to have little or no control?" he asked. "Why do we wait for depressing events to force us to open our eyes and hearts to each other, to see and feel our kinship as one family of humanity?"
Although a year later "a blanket of melancholy has wrapped itself around our shoulders," he said the living should become more aware of God's eternal presence within them and around them.
"You don't have to wait 'til you die to know that you are eternal. For when we realize that we've been sideswiped by the immortal or the eternal, we share the immortal that's within us at that very moment with somebody else who needs a little immortality," he said. "Don't miss the eternal all around you. This day God says to notice and appreciate as never before the simple things, the flowers, the birds, beauty in our lives."
It's about "each person helping somebody make it to safety and security, not only in the World Trade Center, but around the world," he concluded. "We will have peace and the lion will lie down with the lamb when finally we learn that we all are God's children."
Rabbi Joshua Lesser of Congregation Bet Haverim, who gave the benediction, was glad for the opportunity as a member of the Faith Alliance to help increase the unity in Atlanta. He said he hopes to encourage more interfaith understanding in his synagogue. Rabbi Lesser, who made two trips to Israel in the last year to show solidarity, is very mindful of the terrorism threat here and in Israel.
"I was very humbled in my role as rabbi. It has highlighted the need to have greater understanding about the issue and problems in the Middle East . . . This year has been as much about that kind of understanding as well as to work toward a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine," he said. "Suicide bombings are a sign of the desperation of this conflict. They're heinous and . . . have destroyed much of the work that people, both Jewish and Palestinian, have been doing in working towards peace. I think we need to better examine how to improve the quality of life for Palestinians such that there is a motivation to live."
Dr. Khalid Siddiq, director of the Al-Farooq mosque, spoke of how the "extremely tragic" terrorist attacks have deeply saddened and hurt the Muslim community and made him more aware of the ongoing need to increase understanding of the true nature of Islam, often misunderstood.
"The killing of innocent lives through terrorist attacks is not a part of Islam," he said. "In general we have been encouraged by the positive response that has been shown by most Americans when they have learned the truth about the teachings of Islam."
As the Muslim-American community has been criticized for not speaking out enough against terrorism, Siddiq said that Atlanta mosques have denounced it, worked with law enforcement agencies and provided education.
Msgr. Gracz believes the alliance can be a moral voice for faith in the city. He described a sense of being overwhelmed by that voice during the service and by the yearning in the congregation for world peace and unity.
"Atlanta is a community, but it's a community where people try and find so many ways to God and I recall at the Eucharistic Congress in Ethiopia the pope quoted from one of the Hindu Vedas that was used even in today's service. I'm just overwhelmed by that experience" of the service.