Shaken by terrorist attacks, Americans pack churches

Posted: Monday, September 17, 2001

Clutching patriotic flags and prayer books, Americans filled churches Sunday, struggling to comprehend the terror of the week before.

''God Bless America'' mixed with gospel music. Images of the destruction in New York and Washington flashed on some sanctuary walls. Ushers distributed tissues to weeping parishioners.

Many ministers said attendance rivaled that at Christmas.

''America will never be the same,'' said the Rev. Cecil Williams of San Francisco's Glide Memorial Methodist Church. ''Never.''

About 250 members of the historic Parish of Trinity Church Wall Street, in the shadow of the World Trade Center, moved services to a Roman Catholic shrine a block from where the twin towers once stood.

Trinity is now filled with ash and shards of glass. Children were filing into the parish preschool when the first plane struck Tuesday. Stunned rescue workers staggered into the church moments after the crash.

''Human words are inadequate, and so we come together to turn to the word of God,'' said the Rev. Samuel Johnson Howard, vicar of Trinity, an Episcopal parish dating back 300 years.

New York Cardinal Edward Egan celebrated Mass in the majestic St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan, urging parishioners to commune with God to ease the grief of the past six days. The crowd stood and applauded when Egan thanked rescuers and lauded Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who attended the service. The two political leaders hugged during the ovation.

Hundreds of people who could not fit into the cathedral jammed the streets, listening to the Mass through speakers outside.

St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral in Oklahoma City, a block from the site of the 1995 Murrah federal building bombing, held special services, just as it did days after the tragedy there.

In Alexandria, Va., the sound of patrolling helicopters could be heard above the Fairlington United Methodist Church, two miles from the Pentagon, one of the terrorists' targets.

The church was built for military families stationed nearby during World War II. A white pentagon, representing the military building, stood in one corner of the sanctuary.

At the Church of the Nazarene in Augusta, Maine, a flutist played ''The Battle Hymn of the Republic'' while images of the devastation were projected on a wall.

Ministers saw lessons in the outpouring after the collapse: to value family and friends and be kind to strangers. The attacks also posed a challenge, they said, to stay hopeful when bitterness threatened to consume the nation.

''God's love and our hatred cannot coexist in our hearts,'' said the Rev. Charles Kullmann of the Church of St. Paul the Apostle in New York. ''Jesus came to save all sinners, even terrorists.''

Deborah Welsh, a flight attendant on hijacked United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in rural Pennsylvania, was a member of the choir at the Roman Catholic church. Choir members pinned pictures of Welsh to their clothing. The hymn after communion was ''America the Beautiful.''

''It has been a bitter week for all of us,'' said the Rev. Paul Brooks, of First Baptist Church of Raytown, a suburb of Kansas City, Mo.

Many pondered the war ahead.

''As the father of four sons, I don't want to sacrifice their lives for this injustice. And yet there must be a right for this wrong,'' said Brad Sampson, who gathered with tearful Mormons in Logan, Utah.

Roman Catholic Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, leading services for more than 3,500 at the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, read a letter from Pope John Paul II, saying he hopes Americans will take solace in their faith and reject hatred and violence.

One of McCarrick's relatives is missing in the World Trade Center wreckage.

Tyson Cobb, outside the Glendale Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles, said he was troubled about responding to the carnage.

''Having three kids, it makes me really angry, but I don't want to perpetuate the violence to where we're going to escalate it and threaten more families,'' Cobb said.

The Rev. Susan Gaumer of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in New Orleans blamed the assaults on fanatics who perverted the Muslim faith. Many Muslims around the country have been the target of revenge assaults since Tuesday's destruction.

''We, too, Christians and Jews, have our fanatics, and we have had for centuries,'' she said.

Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, at a mosque in Chicago, condemned the ''wild beasts'' who perpetrated the assault and supported harsh punishment for them.

But Farrakhan also argued U.S. foreign policy fostered hatred overseas, a feeling that could change if the government did more to help poor countries.

''As Muslims, the greatest thing we can do right now is pray because it looks like this war could take American soldiers into Muslim countries and many innocent Muslims could die,'' Farrakhan said.

Throughout last week, including Friday's national day of remembrance, mosques and synagogues held memorial services for their congregations.

On Sunday, religious leaders from Lebanon to Australia also organized special worship. Many countries lost citizens in the attacks.

The head of Lebanon's Maronite Church, Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, in a special Mass condemned the ''heinous crime'' against the United States.

In Dominica, a Caribbean island nation of 75,000, the government declared a national day of prayer Sunday.

The pope offered ''my heartbroken and shared thoughts'' to Americans and prayed that victims' families would find comfort. He urged restraint in efforts to find the terrorists.

Before the pontiff arrived in Frosinone, 50 miles southeast of Rome, a local choir sang ''Blowin' in the Wind'' and waved an American flag.

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