Shulman leads interfaith service at St. John’s

By Dustin Brown

It had all the trappings of a religious service, but the procession of clergyman would rarely preach at the same house of worship and the American flag hung where the religious symbol should have been.

Presiding over the most diverse county in the nation, Borough President Claire Shulman led an interfaith religious ceremony attended by about 400 Sunday that would have been worthy of the United Nations. Entitled “Queens Comes Together in the Wake of America’s Tragedy,” the service brought together religious leaders from a broad array of world faiths at St. John’s University’s Alumni Hall.

“It’s my experience that the only answer at a time like this is prayer,” Rev. Donald Harrington, president of St. John’s, said at the start of the ceremony.

The prayers were said in different languages by ministers in different frocks, from the imposing black attire of a Greek Orthodox priest to the simpler brown robe of a Buddhist nun. Some prayers were chanted, others read, but each stressed the theme of unity in the face of crisis.

“All of us have suffered together,” said the Rev. Floyd Flake of the Allen African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Common to every faith was the resolve to overcome the tragedy and move forward with a renewed sense of spirit and faith.

“We must comfort ourselves with the knowledge that like a phoenix rising from the ashes, there is much justice and goodness” that emerged out of the disaster, Shulman said.

Although a handful of terrorists was responsible for the destruction of the World Trade Center, Shulman reminded her audience that “the power of good sent thousands more rescuers into the collapsed towers.”

The message was echoed by every religious leader who went up to the podium, including representatives of Catholicism, the Greek Orthodox Church, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, the Armenian Apostolic Church and the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

“May we stand all together through this difficult time to promote peace and love over violence and hate,” said Imam Zameer Sattaur Majid Al-Abidin, an Islamic leader.

Venerable Yi Fa of the International Buddhist Progress Society recited a prayer for the harmony of the earth, which she sang in Chinese to the melody of “Amazing Grace” before inviting the audience to join her in the language of their choice. A soft but determined chorus emerged from the spectators, following the gentle timbre of Fa’s voice.

Alexandra Rosa proclaimed in a poem the survival of the human spirit in the face of death.

“Do not stand at my grave and cry, I am not there, I did not die,” she read, her words offering a poignant reminder of the undying hope that missing loved ones might be found.

Two Jewish students who shared their thoughts with the congregation proved that the need for spiritual comfort crossed generations.

“I will personally try to do whatever I can to help, but I am only 10,” Rachel Friedman said in a letter to uniformed rescuers.

The ceremony “was very inspirational,” said Barbara Moore of Long Island, an employee at Queens General Hospital in Jamaica. “The idea of a church with all different denominations — I like that.

“Whatever religion you are, God is God.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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