Prayers for peace in Mideast fill area churches


There is a time for peace, the Bible states, and a time for war.

Barring a last-minute resolution of the Persian Gulf crisis, the time for war is at hand. Which also makes this a time for prayer.

Local religious and lay groups will be offering their most fervent prayers for peace at upcoming services and vigils, as the United Nations deadline for Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait takes effect at midnight tonight.

A peace vigil began at 6 o'clock last night at Union Baptist Church's Coffee House Ministry in West Baltimore and is scheduled to continue through next Monday. This afternoon at the church, an "Emergency Call to Conscience and Action," a program combining a celebration of the birth of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and an anti-war rally, was planned.

Meanwhile, the threat of war was on the minds of several hundred gathered today for the Federation of Maryland Teachers' annual tribute to King, the slain civil rights leader.

"I think it's one of the great ironies that we should be preparing to go to war on Martin Luther King's birthday," said Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, D-Md., addressing the audience gathered for a breakfast meeting at the Omni Hotel in downtown Baltimore.

"There is something wrong, deeply wrong, with the priorities of a society that is unable to find the money to educate its children . . . and then finds . . . billions and billions to go to war."

And Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., urged prayers to "save the world from the cataclysm that is about to be unleashed."

At the opening of last night's vigil at Union Baptist, as a black robe hung from a ceiling to represent King, the Rev. Daki Napata, a local community activist, said religious groups must band together against the threat of war.

Napata said religious leaders must encourage and give the community hope that a major disaster in the Persian Gulf can be prevented. He calls the disaster: "Armageddon -- a genocidal, worldwide holocaust which has major impact on all life."

Families, the Earth and future generations will be harmed, he said.

Napata and others said the war is wrong. For example, they said, the country shouldn't take women and children from their homes and place them into the desert with no assurances they'll return.

Anti-war sympathizers also expressed concern about the disproportionate numbers of black soldiers who will risk their lives on the battlefield. If they're lucky, they'll return home to a country whose president recently vetoed civil rights measures, they said.

City Councilman Lawrence Bell 3rd, D-4th, who stopped by, said it's time for local leaders, including the mayor, to take a stand on the Persian Gulf crisis.

Bell said a resolution will be introduced next week in the council to call for an end to "the insanity" occurring in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, if war breaks out in the Persian Gulf, William E. Green, 40, a city educator, says he'll send his 17-year-old son to another country to prevent him from losing blood in "an unjust war."

"If it takes sending my son out of the United States to live, I'll do it," Green told those gathered at the Coffee House.

The United Nations, under United States influence, has given Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein until midnight tonight to withdraw from Kuwait.

"To choose Jan. 15 is a slap in the face to everyone" and King, said Sharon Ceci in a telephone interview. She is co-chairman of the Baltimore branch of the Jan. 19th March on Washington Coalition, which will hold an anti-war rally in Washington Saturday.

The Union Baptist group was marching this afternoon from the church to the 5th Regiment Armory, Bolton and Hoffman streets, for an anti-war rally and a news conference. The events were co-sponsored by the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and the Baltimore Area Coalition Against U.S. Intervention in the Middle East.

The Rev. Marion C. Bascom, the pastor of Douglas Memorial Community Church and a participant in the activities, said the tension leading up to tonight's deadline has created "a real zone of concern where many people are residing."

His congregants have been "very sad," he added, "and I've helped cause that because I myself have been very, very sad, thinking of all the destruction that this war could do."

The Towson Area Ministerial Alliance, a group of about 40 mainstream Christian pastors, will hold a prayer service at 7:30 tonight at Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church, Joppa Road and Bosley Avenue in Towson.

According to the Rev. Matthew McNaught, the minister of Towson Unitarian-Universalist Church and the president of TAMA, the service is "for the area pastors to support each other at a difficult time, for all of us to pray for peace and to pray for the men and women in the gulf, and for us in the alliance to explore the issues of war and peace as religious people."

Auxiliary Bishop Francis Murphy of Baltimore's Catholic Archdiocese will be the main speaker at the service.

McNaught said about a third of the 200 people attending a service at his church last Sunday have friends or relatives in the gulf.

"One woman I talked to said she was torn because she has a son there, a Marine, and she also wants to be involved in anti-war protests," the minister said. "She asked me, 'How can I support my son 100 percent and march against a war at the same time?' I told her, 'You both have to do what's right for each of you. You march for peace, and let him do his job as a soldier.' "

During a break at the Union Baptist vigil, Lillian Amos, 58, of northwest Baltimore, said she was concerned for her cousin who's in the Navy and stationed in the Middle East. "We don't know what's going to happen, if he'll come back or not."

More important, she has a 19-year-old son who joined the military recently because he couldn't find a job. Now he faces going to basic training in three to four weeks and later to war.

Thomas Jesse Bordley 3rd, 18, a junior at Calvert Hall, said he has plans to go to college and begin a basketball career. He hadn't planned on possibly being drafted into a war.

If a draft was re-established, "I'd be a prime candidate," Bordley said at the Coffee House. He said he'd have to place his plans on hold.

However, he added, "Yeah, I would go without a second thought."

An hour-long silent vigil for peace was planned for today and tomorrow in front of the Homewood Friends Meeting House, 3107 N. Charles St.

The sponsors of the vigil -- the Homewood Friends Meeting, the Stony Run Friends Meeting and the American Friends Service Committee -- have been staging a silent demonstration at the same location every Monday evening since last summer, just after U.S. forces were sent to Saudi Arabia.

The sponsors say they seek a diplomatic, rather than a military, solution to the crisis. Participants will hold lighted candles to signify the flickering hope for peace.

Several blocks away, at St. John's United Methodist Church, St. Paul and 27th streets, a "meditation for peace" will take place at 7:30 tonight. The event is sponsored by the church.

Rabbi Seymour Essrog of Beth Israel Congregation in Pikesville says his synagogue has been holding special prayers for peace at morning services this week. Most local synagogues probably will be adding peace prayers to their services during the coming days, said Rabbi Floyd Herman of Har Sinai Congregation, the president of the Baltimore Board of Reform Rabbis.

As an auxiliary Jewish chaplain at Aberdeen Proving Ground and Fort Meade, Essrog has seen reservists with gas masks attached to their uniforms.

"You drive around in your car, listening to all the news, and that's bad enough," says the rabbi. "But when you see these young people in uniform walking around with gas masks, it really brings the whole scary situation home for you."

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