Buddhist service honors Trade Center victims

By Kathianne Boniello

With hopes for the souls of the dead, prayers for those still missing and thanks to the rescue workers sifting through the rubble of the World Trade Center, the Buddhist Vihara Temple in Hollis Hills led the community Saturday in a memorial service for the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The hourlong service, open to the surrounding neighborhood and attended by a city fire chief, civic leader Emma Eberlin and the ambassador of Sri Lanka, drew some 100 people to the Spencer Avenue temple.

Bhante Kondanna, a monk who presided over the service, led the audience and several other monks in a series of quiet Buddhist prayers to honor the victims of the terrorist attacks and to remember the city firefighters, police officers and emergency personnel who were killed in the rescue effort.

“I think all of us were shaken by this tragedy,” Kondanna told the audience. “As Buddhists, as friends, as neighbors and as citizens you all gathered here.

“Compassion is more important today than ever,” Kondanna said. “Otherwise we cannot stand together. We all have to take courage from each other to bare this tragedy.”

During the Buddhist ceremony a large golden statue of Buddha was encircled by bright flowers, marking one of several memorial services in Queens this weekend.

At least five similar events, including three in Whitestone, were held as Queens residents continued to mourn and remember those lost in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, which demolished the Twin Towers.

Other memorials were scheduled to take place in the upcoming weeks, including a boroughwide gathering organized by Borough President Claire Shulman for Sunday, Sept. 30, at St. John’s University.

As members of communities, such as Douglas Manor and Bellerose, gathered outdoors with candles and prayers to mourn the victims of the attacks, participants in the Buddhist ceremony engaged in gentle prayer inside the colorfully adorned temple.

Siri Sena, a former city resident who has been visiting from Sri Lanka, helped preside over a “dedication of merit” ceremony to honor those who were killed in front of a large bouquet of pink flowers. Pictures of firefighters killed Sept. 11 were placed inside the bouquet.

Fire Chief George Lonergan, of Battalion 53, and Sri Lankan Ambassador John de Saram joined Sena in the ceremony, which involved pouring water into a small bowl until the container overflowed into a larger bowl.

Kondanna said the ceremony was meant to symbolize the Buddhist “wish for happiness to those who have departed — may they overflow with thoughts of happiness.”

De Saram said Sri Lankans joined Americans in mourning those lost in the tragedy.

“We the people of Sri Lanka are sadly no strangers to terrorism. We have known the stealth of a suicide bomber, attacks on unsuspecting cities,” he said. “We know the experience of suddenly losing loved ones. We know what it is perhaps more than others who have not felt the hand of terrorism, the sharp pain against someone unknown.”

Lonergan thanked the temple for holding the service.

Referring to the more than 300 firefighters who were killed or are missing in the destruction of the Twin Towers, Lonergan said “every one of those brave men would make the same decision. We will risk our lives in the hour of your need.”

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

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