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    Prayer, fellowship pull many through agonizing anniversary

    By WAVENEY ANN MOORE, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published September 12, 2002

    Vivian Stephens, 58, sat quietly at the back of the Cathedral of St. Jude in St. Petersburg, her prayer book open. Though the Seminole homemaker had attended Mass at her parish church earlier Wednesday, she felt the need to offer additional prayers on this difficult day.

    "It's such a sad day for our country," said Stephens, the mother of four adult sons.

    Stephens was among those who turned to faith for help to cope with Wednesday's solemn anniversary.

    "I've always been taught that prayer is so powerful, and I think we all need to turn to God because that is where our consolation is," Stephens said.

    At Second Church of Christ, Scientist, in St. Petersburg, "there were more people than usual" at the midday service, organist Rena Massey said.

    The day's scriptures, which included Psalm 91, were fitting, she said.

    "The readings were on protection, that evil won't win, that God is omnipresent," Massey said.

    At St. Michael's Catholic Church in Hudson, the clergy asked those who filled the pews to pray for peace, for the grace to forgive and for healing. Kathleen Doyle, 23, came to church with her mother "to be together, in the community, with people that believe in the same thing."

    A prayer breakfast sponsored by St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker and the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce offered the opportunity for interfaith prayer. Held at the St. Petersburg Hilton, the event underscored a renewed commitment to faith in this country, Baker said.

    At another interfaith gathering at Congregation B'nai Israel, Baker said, "We've seen the entire nation fall to their knees to seek guidance from almighty God."

    Ronald Tihal, 71, a Hindu and a retired headmaster from Guyana, South America, was among more than 400 people who attended the service sponsored by the St. Petersburg Ministerial Association, the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and the National Conference for Community and Justice.

    "I came to pay tribute to those who are suffering in this 9/11 disaster and to mourn their loss and the suffering of those who are left behind -- widows, orphans, brothers, sisters," said Tihal, who worships at Vishnu Mandir, a Hindu temple in Tampa.

    "We felt it was important to provide an opportunity for the community to come together for a service of healing and hope," said the Rev. Doug McMahon, president of the St. Petersburg Ministerial Association and pastor of Woodlawn Presbyterian Church.

    Though the Sept. 11 anniversary fell during the Jewish High Holy Days, Rabbi Jacob Luski said his synagogue willingly hosted the service.

    "Of course we made mention of 9/11 during Rosh Hashana last week and we will be doing that during Yom Kippur, but 9/11 is a time that belongs to all of us as Americans and it is a time to be with community," Luski said.

    Imam Askia Muhammad Aquil, of the Muslim American Society and former leader of Masjid Al-Muminin Inc., or the Believers' Mosque, said it is important to remember and reflect.

    "It helps to remember all the things that we have in common," he said, "and also the strength that we have in diversity."

    -- Times staff writers Alicia Caldwell and Jennifer Goldblatt contributed to this report.

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