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Faiths join for prayer in storm's aftermath

People from various traditions speak and pray for compassion and unity for those affected by Hurricane Katrina.

Published September 10, 2005

CLEARWATER - The Rev. Leddy Hammock held a candle and looked up at the dozens of people at an interfaith remembrance service for Hurricane Katrina victims Tuesday.

"We gather to rebuild a levee against all human tears," she told them.

A few minutes later, the lights were dimmed, and each person in the octagon-shaped sanctuary held up a single lighted candle, asking God to help the evacuees and to forgive the dead of their misdeeds, if any.

The event at the Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater brought together religious leaders of several faiths and traditions, including Baha'i, Buddhist, Christian, Islamic, Hindu, Scientology and Jewish.

The idea for the special service came from Ahmed Bedier of the Council for American Islamic Relations.

Each leader gave a short speech and offered a prayer.

Musician Fred Johnson spoke for the Baha'i faith.

"The mercy of God is infinite," he said. "(The dead) were called from the temporary and entered the eternal."

Bhante Dhammawansha, of the Dhamma Wheel Meditation Center, urged people not to get lost in sadness and worry but to send healing energy to those who are suffering. True compassion means not just sending a tax-deductible contribution, he said, but sharing your bed with a victim of the storm.

"Suffering comes as no surprise," he said. "We're here to find a way through the suffering ... we are them."

The Rev. Paul Norcross of Emmanuel Community Church read from the Gospel of Matthew, and the Rev. Mary Story of the Church of Scientology said the disaster is a call for religions to stand together in unity.

Aziz Merchant of the North Pinellas Islamic Center read from the Koran, saying the hurricane was a test and the will of God.

"Oh God, have mercy on the departed souls and forgive them," Merchant said.

In a sense, Katrina was God reaching out to people and letting them know he exists, Bedier said.

"We're not thankful and not grateful enough for the bounty God has blessed us with," he said. "God is showing us that materialism is not our salvation. In the Islamic tradition, giving purifies you, and God is going to look at you in a better light."

Dr. Roy Kaplan of the University of South Florida said the United States is two nations, one affluent and white, the other black and brown and poor.

"There is a lot of repairing we need to do," he said. "We must work together to repair our country."

Rabbi David Weizman of Temple Beth Shalom talked about returning to God as his wife, Rabbi Danielle Upbin, sang a song.

"All of our faiths are intertwined with this America, yet we wonder, what has happened to this land?" said the Rev. Dee Graham of the Interdenominational Ministers Association in St. Petersburg.

The service raised about $55,000, including one personal check for $50,000. But the service wasn't about giving money and moving on, Graham said. It was about creating a better world.

"Just as our faiths come together, so does our compassion," Graham said.

Eileen Schulte can be reached at 727 445-4153 or

[Last modified September 10, 2005, 01:22:18]

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