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Ethnic groups worship together in Highlandtown Service highlights common ground


Vivian Villanueva said she got a glimpse of heaven yesterday in Highlandtown.

Gathered at Nazareth Lutheran Church were people of various races, ethnic groups and nationalities, learning about the beauty of one another's native cultures and zealously expressing a common love of God.

"I wish this could happen every day," said Mrs. Villanueva, a Highlandtown resident of Puerto Rican descent. "We learn so much about each other's differences, but then we learn that we're not so different after all."

Southeast Baltimore boasts a rich ethnic stew -- including Latinos, blacks, Koreans, Greeks, American Indians and Poles. Often, because of language barriers and a mistrust of outsiders, each group socializes, worships and shops with its own kind.

So, in an effort to promote more understanding and cooperation among the various groups -- whose centers are usually churches -- religious leaders organized yesterday's worship service and invited various neighborhood congregations.

Some of the participants wore native costumes, such as the Korean women from In Amen Presbyterian Church who captivated the crowd in their gold-embroidered sangas. The Rev. Eung Ahn said the bright taffeta gowns are worn for special ceremonies.

Elizabeth Locklear, a Lumbee Indian, showed off her handmade buckskin dress decorated with colored beads.

"I think this event proves that finally people are starting to come together to learn about each other -- and not just at the annual festivals," said Mrs. Locklear, a resident of Baltimore for 35 years, referring to Baltimore's annual Festival of Nations ethnic fairs. "I really see people making an effort to talk to their neighbors and help each other."

Mrs. Villanueva, who moved to Baltimore from Long Island, N.Y., said that events such as yesterday's are needed to improve relations among various races.

"When I first moved here, I livedin Essex and I asked a woman for directions to the laundromat," she said. "The woman ran away from me. It was really upsetting."

The petite woman, with long ebony hair, has since moved to Southeast Baltimore and is a member of the First Hispanic Christian Church. The 2-year-old congregation consists of people from various Latino nationalities -- many of whom have recently immigrated to this country -- and meets on the first floor of a row house on North Potomac Street.

The sermons are given in English and Spanish, she said, because the church hopes to attract anyone seeking spiritual salvation.

At yesterday's service, Mrs. Villanueva and dozens of members of her church sang a rousing hymn in Spanish, accompanied by tambourines, a bongo drum and maracas.

Tianne Little and her husband,Rodney, members of a predominantly black church, rose to their feet and swayed.

"I didn't understand the words," said Mr. Little, a member of New Refuge Holiness Deliverance. "But they were praising God and their music moved me."

His wife added, "It makes me realize that if we can learn to understand each other and get along with each other in church, we should be able to get along anywhere."

Before the service ended, each participant turned to those around him, shook hands and said, "We are one in the Lord."

They lighted candles, signifying the light of hope for a better world and vowed to share that hope with one another.

"God can bring people together," prayed the Rev. Angel Nunez, of the Latino congregation. "We are tired of anger. We are tired of hate. We want peace. We want unity."

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