Services offer solace

Religious organizations around campus observed a national day of prayer and remembrance Friday, which President George W. Bush proclaimed last week.

Student gathered at the Newman Center, Hillel and the Quad to mourn and remember victims of Tuesday’s terrorist attacks. At 12 p.m. all University businesses, including classes, stopped to observe a moment of silence for those dead and missing in New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

GW students, faculty, staff and other Foggy Bottom community members gathered on the Quad at 7 p.m. to participate in a national candlelight vigil.

More than 100 people poured into the small chapel located in the back of the Newman Catholic Student Center Friday afternoon, overflowing into an adjoining room and out onto F Street.

Newman Center chaplain Father Robert Panke asked those in attendance to look to their core beliefs to find strength. Encouraged by the recent swell in attendance at the services, he urged everyone to continue to come to masses and further the movement he said is bringing them closer to God.

“We all call out to each other, and we all embrace the ones who need us most,” Panke said in his sermon.

Vincent De Rosa, a junior and chairman of the Spiritual Life Committee at the Newman Center, said he believes masses are one of the most important ways Catholics can deal with the shock, grief and rage that has dominated their emotions during the past week.

De Rosa said the mood at services was the same as the week before because people see light even in the depth of a tragedy.

“Masses are a joyous thing,” De Rosa said. “Even in the depths of the darkest tragedies, a mass is a hopeful and inspiring event.”

Muslim prayer services were held Friday afternoon in the multipurpose room of the Western Presbyterian Church. About 50 people attended the services and offered prayers to victims and their families.

Students attending the services expressed concern about the way Muslim-Americans are being treated in the wake of the attack and about certain misconceptions that a small number of students and professors seem to hold regarding Islam.

Two Muslim students talked after the service about the effect this tragedy has had on their congregation.

“People have been frightened to come to services. They are afraid that they will be seen as a terrorist just because of their faith,” said one student, who wished to remain anonymous. “Those that do come, however, find comfort in the sharing of prayers and offering supplication to those who were lost on Tuesday.”

Another student said Islamic teachings promote peace.

“The Imam stressed the fact that Islam does not condone the actions of Osama Bin Laden,” said the student, who also asked to remain anonymous. “There is a misconception that he is operating under (Islamic law), but he is not. The word Islam means peace and the common greeting between Muslims is Assalaimu Alaikua, which means `peace be unto you.'”

Another student said most people have not been treating them poorly.

“Only a small number of people are aggressive towards us. We want to reach out and support those who are not,” he said. “We are Muslims and we are Americans. Our loved ones were killed last Tuesday also.”

Jewish services were held at Hillel in the early evening. A memorial service for the victims who perished as a result of the atrocities was held on the top floor.

More than 200 Jewish students packed into the room to hear readings in Hebrew and English. After the readings, students participated in memorial prayers at three Sabbath services for Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Jews.

Senior Mike Rosenthal started working at the Pentagon Monday in the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s office.

Although he was not there Tuesday, Rosenthal said the events made him realize how precious and fragile life is and how important his faith is.

“It is necessary to come together as a community in a time of profound mourning,” Rosenthal said. “We can look to each other for support, we give and receive it without asking why.”

“I think people are finding strength in religion and by proclaiming faith we are beginning the healing process,” freshman Ari Mittleman said.

Hillel Director Simon Amiel led the services and offered words of comfort and instruction.

“It is prohibited to mourn on the Sabbath, but to ignore this great tragedy would be a sin,” Amiel said. “Our prayers go out to those sacrificed by this atrocity, but what we say and do here this evening must not be the end of it. Our faith must not stop when we leave here tonight. ”

After the services, Hillel hosted a dinner in the basement. Students read and sang while others anonymously wrote down the emotions they have experienced during the past week.

Later in evening GW students, staff and faculty members gathered on the Quad for the candlelight vigil. About 600 people came together in the early evening hours. The vigil was not formal, but rather a simple gathering of people to share their support and respect for those in need.

“I am here to pay respect to the victims and their families,” freshman Danae Wint said. “I am here to let those people know that I am praying for them and that my heart goes out to them.”

Senior Kyla Dennigan said she needed to get away from 24-hour television coverage of the attacks.

“Watching the news for the past few days is just exhausting,” Dennigan said. “I came out here to get away from it for a while, to be with friends and to give my support to anyone who needs it.”

At about 7:15 p.m., the group formed a large circle as one of the first strong breezes of autumn caused people to cup their hands around their candles to keep the flames alive.

After a few minutes of silence, the group sang “The Star Spangled Banner,” “America the Beautiful,” “God Bless America” and “My Country `Tis of Thee.”

Business School Dean Susan Phillips said the University has been doing an excellent job coping with the tragedy and giving students an outlet to deal with their pain and sadness.

“When this tragedy first happened, I was unsure of the way the GW community would react,” Phillips said. “GW has profoundly stated that we are Americans above all and that we are one University and one community united, not divided.”

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