They prayed for the children of Israel and for the children in the "camps of Palestine."
They prayed for the children of Africa and the victims of AIDS.
They prayed for the children of Baghdad and for the children of Kabul.
And they prayed for the "children in our own midst," for the children who died "as a result of violence in our own city," the city of Baltimore.
At the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation on North Charles Street yesterday, readers recited the names of 43 children as old as 18 and as young as a few minutes who were killed last year in our neighborhoods and on our streets. For each victim there was a lit candle on the altar, and after each name was read, a bell was rung and the flame snuffed out.
The congregation chanted: "A sound is heard in Baltimore, the sound of bitter weeping."
It is a grim New Year's Day ritual, begun in 1997 after 3-year-old James Smith III was shot and killed while getting his first haircut when two drug dealers brought their street battle into a barbershop. More than 450 candles have been lit since, on the day the Bible says Herod ordered the slaughter of children under 2 in Bethlehem at the time of Jesus' birth.
It's the Feast of the Holy Innocents.
All of Baltimore's slain youth are innocents on this day, a day in which this church puts this city on a dubious list of places around the world known for war, genocide, famine, disease and ethnic and religious strife.
Jerusalem. Gaza. Harare. Soweto. Baghdad. Baltimore.
More than 100 people attended the service.
Only some were relatives of slain children.
Matthew Scarborough's grandmother came. The 16-year-old was shot and killed in August when he refused demands of armed invaders to lie on the floor of his apartment on Castle Drive in North Baltimore.
Friends of Justin Berry and Howard Grant came. The cousins had survived a string of shootings after gunmen realized they had been present when a friend was shot and didn't want them testifying or helping police. Both had participated in the church's youth programs and were known to parishioners.
And Daniel and Mary Jane McCann came. Their 16-year-old daughter, Annie, ran away from home and was found dead Nov. 2 next to a trash bin in a public housing complex on Pratt Street between the Inner Harbor and Fells Point. Her death remains a mystery, officially classified as a "suspicious death."
Annie had lived in Alexandria, Va., and her parents made the trip to Baltimore yesterday. They carried a candle to the altar and after the service went to the back of the church for a private moment of prayer. They believe their daughter was killed, have no idea why she suddenly left home and are awaiting results of tests from an FBI lab to learn a cause of death.
On Dec. 19, the McCanns came to Baltimore to meet with homicide detectives, who took them to the spot Annie had been found. It was the first time they'd been there. Mary Jane McCann left behind an angel she had taken from their Christmas tree. The wait for answers is hard. The visit to Perkins Homes was painful.
During the service, the Rev. Jan Hamill singled out Annie McCann, noting her death is not "technically a homicide" but that she deserves to be remembered because "she died in our city."
Hamill noted that Jesus was an outcast, shunned by his community and friendly with the people who lived on fringes of society. She said her church will continue to partner with city schools, to reorganize and spend money on its after-school program, to pray.
She challenged her parishioners to do the same. "Each of you will do something," she said. "What will it be?"
Hamill asked each person to fill out a card describing their plans for the new year to help the city's youth and end the violence, and to drop it in the collection plate. "God has the power to save this city," she said.
"Maybe because of your faithfulness, another child will be able to celebrate a birthday in Baltimore."