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Call to God for direction

[Times photo: Maurice Rivenbark]
Carl Griffin, 4, holds his grandmother's hand as Sister Immaculata and others pray while attending the National Day of Prayer ceremony Thursday afternoon in Brooksville. More than 100 people gathered for the event.

By JAMIE MALERNEE

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 4, 2001


BROOKSVILLE -- On a day meant for thanksgiving and introspection, the Rev. Barry Kupler stood on the steps of the Hernando County courthouse and urged a group of more than 100 residents to do just that -- and more.

"Prayer is both words and actions," he told the crowd gathered to celebrate the National Day of Prayer. "We need to redirect ourselves and rechallenge ourselves to that aspect of prayer. We need to do more than words and follow it up with actions. There are so many worthy causes out there."

His urging followed an hourlong ceremony in which members of various churches in Hernando and Pasco counties joined to ask for God's help in addressing the needs of the poor, imprisoned, abused, sick and hopeless. They also made a special prayer mentioning President Bush and government officials. Many said that the nation was straying from the "path of the Lord" and that it needed more guidance than ever before.

"Let's pray that God will lead us back to our roots," said Gloria Cagan of Spring Hill. "This country was founded on Christian principles and we need to go back to them."

The ceremony, which also included music and Bible readings, marked the third year the National Day of Prayer has been officially celebrated in Hernando County. The National Day of Prayer was first established in 1952 but has gained prominence since 1988, when President Ronald Reagan signed a bill setting aside the first Thursday in May for its observance.

More than 20,000 similar prayer events were scheduled to take place across the United States.

The local ceremony began after Rabbi Sivan Costello, a Messianic Jew, blew into a curved horn instrument called a shofar, producing a trumpeting sound. A Messianic Jew, he explained, is a Jewish person who believes Jesus is the Messiah but still values the lessons of the Torah, known to most Christians as part of the Old Testment, and observes Jewish holidays, such as Yom Kippur.

"The shofar has been used for thousands of years to call God's people to assembly," Costello said.

As part of Thursday's ceremony, the Hafer family made a musical presentation imagining what America would be like without religious freedom. Family members later explained it was meant to be a "worst-case scenario" of where the country was headed if Christians didn't stand up for their faith.

"We've got to remember it wasn't always like this," Mike Hafer said to his 12-year-old son, Paul, during the dramatic rendition. "I mean, there was a time when we could even pray in school. Then they took that away from us. Then it became incorrect for us to believe in the Bible. And after that, they stole our right to worship as we quietly stood by."

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