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Gathered in faith, people try to find meaning in tragedy

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, Globe Correspondent, 9/12/2002

All day, they gathered in front of Trinity Church, jotting their thoughts down on ribbons strung on wires crisscrossing Copley Square, writing notes about memory and loss on giant scrolls of paper stretched across the sun-drenched plaza.

At Regis College in Weston, they attached origami cranes, a symbol of peace, to a small tree as they cried and prayed in an early-morning reflection.

In City Hall Plaza they chanted words from the Bhagavad Gita and Adi Granth, heard readings from the Koran, the Talmud, and the New Testament.

And in a Jamaica Plain church, they listened to Mozart's ''Requiem.''

Throughout Greater Boston, as around the nation, Americans flocked to houses of worship and other religious institutions, creating new rituals for a new experience: the first anniversary of the worst act of terrorism ever to strike the United States.

The ceremonies offered a blend of religion and patriotism, and an amalgam of devotional practices. At the Episcopal Cathedral Church of Saint Paul, Rabbi Moshe Waldoks of Temple Beth Zion of Brookline and Imam Talal Eid of the Islamic Center of New England in Quincy shared a hymnal as they sang ''America.''

Cardinal Bernard F. Law, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Boston, bowed his head as he listened to quotes from the Buddha in City Hall Plaza. And at Trinity Church, worshipers were called to prayer by a muezzin chanting in Arabic, a Jew blowing a shofar, and trumpeters playing taps, while outside the historic landmark giant block letters spelled out ''Peace,'' ''Shalom,'' and `Salaam.''

''The one thing we all have in common is professing the same creator, God,'' said Daniel Joslyn-Siemiatkoski, a Boston College graduate student who attended a Christian-Jewish-Muslim worship service at Trinity last night. ''We're all equal in the sight of God.''

Worshipers said they mostly wanted a chance to be together as a community as they remembered the 3,000 killed in New York, Washington, D.C., and western Pennsylvania.

''It's not my faith, in terms of religion, so much as a greater need to connect spiritually that was brought to a climax by the events of 9/11,'' said Nancy Wolk of Natick, who attended an interfaith forum at Plymouth Church in Framingham.

Clergy and worshipers offered a variety of messages as they tried to extract meaning from senselessness. Many urged worshipers to become more faithful; others cited the need to embrace tolerance. Many said they had reprioritized their lives with a new awareness of the possibility of death.

''Either you have trust in God and you really have faith, or you don't,'' said Zaismely Velez, 18, a Regis College freshman from Cambridge. ''We have to wake up. ... If you don't vote, then start voting. If you don't attend town meetings, then start going.''

And Aneika Astacio, a baseball-cap-wearing Regis senior from the Dominican Republic, said her Catholic faith has grown stronger over the past year.

''You really see what's important in life,'' Astacio said. ''You see that love, faith, and relationships count, and you dedicate more time to those.''

At the Episcopal Cathedral, Ruy O. Costa, the executive director of Episcopal City Mission, said that as a result of the attacks, ''time with family and children is more precious.'' Garrett Eastman of Newton, at the same service, said the terrorism had caused him to explore ''how can ... faith be deeper, more meaningful.''

Participation in services varied widely. About 1,400 people came to a Christian ecumenical service at Trinity Church at noon, with many straining to hear from outside. An hour later, about 200 came to a Roman Catholic service at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End. In Charlestown, about 300 people huddled at the base of Bunker Hill monument for a solemn evening vigil, holding flags and flickering candles in the gusty night as clergy from a variety of faiths spoke.

Throughout the region, clergy struggled to find words to describe what happened last year. Metropolitan Methodios, the presiding hierarch of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Boston, said Sept. 11 was ''when civilization came face to face with evil''; the Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III, rector of Trinity, referred to the past year as ''this long night of loss''; Rabbi Barry Starr, the president of the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis, described the terrorists as ''madmen''; and Wanda Chan, chairwoman of the Massachusetts Buddhist Association, called them ''deluded beings.'' Eid described the attacks as ''terrible evil.''

One common element of the ceremonies was silence.

At Central Congregational Church of Jamaica Plain, as worshipers listened to Mozart, many kept their eyes closed while others let out moans and cries. Some held their heads; others shared handkerchiefs to wipe away tears. The senior minister, the Rev. Richard Chrisman, said Americans had learned how to ''pray all over again'' as a result of Sept. 11.

Clergy said one positive outcome of the last year has been that, in the face of religious prejudice that emerged after the attacks were blamed on Muslim terrorists, local religious leaders of multiple faiths have forged new relationships. Buddhist, Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Hindu, Muslim, Protestant, and Sikh clergy, who have met several times to denounce discrimination and urge tolerance, gathered in the early morning outside City Hall, praying together and pausing for a moment of silence at 8:46, when the first plane hit the World Trade Center last year.

But the clergy acknowledged that they have a long way to go. When Christians, Jews, and Muslims tried to prepare a joint program for an interfaith service at Trinity Church last night, their computers were unable to understand their different liturgical languages, causing the Arabic and Hebrew lettering in the final program to appear as gibberish.

Michael Paulson can be reached at mpaulson@globe.com.

Globe Staff reporters Douglas Belkin and Brian MacQuarrie, Globe Staff correspondents Emily Sweeney and Rhonda Stewart and Globe correspondents Jenny Jiang and Adam Krauss contributed to this report.

This story ran on page B8 of the Boston Globe on 9/12/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

© Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company

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