WASHINGTON – About 100 people gathered on the West Front Lawn of the Capitol Monday for an interfaith prayer vigil for U.S. troops and civilian Iraqis suffering in Iraq.
The peaceful prayer vigil,which drew not a single police officer,was organized by the National Council of Churches.
As the group prayed,President Bush delivered a speech across town,outlining his goals for the war in Iraq this year.
Followed by the audience of all ages,clerics wearing religious attire read scriptures and sang traditional prayers for peace and well being.
“We yearn for the bombing to stop,for the rhetoric to end,for people – all people – to once again stroll freely along city streets,for the silencing of the tears,” said the Rev. John McCullough,executive director of Church World Service,a humanitarian ministry that provides self-help and development,disaster relief and refuge assistance in more than 80 countries.
In a chant and response led by several people,a speaker read: “We pray for an end to violence and war in Iraq,a return of U.S. and allied soldiers,and true peace,security and welfare for the Iraqi people.”
The crowd responded: “Gracious God,hear our prayer.”
Zuleqa Husain,from the Muslim Public Affairs Council,which works to protect the civil rights of American Muslims and opposes the Iraq war,sang a prayer in Arabic from the Koran.
The council recently awarded the controversial,Oscar-nominated movie “Paradise Now,” which tells the story of two Palestinian suicide bombers,with its 15th Annual Media Award. Edina Lekovic,the group's communication director,said the movie sparked an important international conversation.
Simon Bautista,from the Episcopal Diocese of Washington,sang a prayer from the Bible in Spanish.
Prabhjit Singh,from the National Sikh Gurdwara,a religious and cultural center here,said he supports the U.S. mission in Iraq and that,if the troops leave the country,Iraq “will be in chaos.” However,he said he hopes the situation in Iraq stabilizes and the troops will soon be back home.
One of the participants,Lois Callender,33,a legal secretary in Columbia,S.C.,and a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America,said the situation in Iraq is “complicated” and invading the country was a “mistake.”
She said her brother recently returned from Afghanistan after serving 13 months.
“Thank God he returned alive,” she said.
Many vigil participants held “I'm a witness for justice” posters.