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A day to gather, to grieve, to pray

Pasco residents join fellow Americans to remember the fallen and find hope for the future.

By CARY DAVIS

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 15, 2001


Pasco residents join fellow Americans to remember the fallen and find hope for the future.

NEW PORT RICHEY -- The huge American flag draped from the ceiling dominated the sanctuary, obscuring even the large cross behind the pulpit. The hymns for this service, God Bless America and My Country, 'Tis of Thee, seemed to flow not so much from the worshipers' lungs, but from their hearts. A 16-year-old boy wore an American flag necktie over his orange T-shirt.

"It's a very patriotic time across our country," the Rev. Guy Sanders, pastor of First Baptist Church of New Port Richey, told worshipers Friday. "These sorts of times do that."

In Pasco and across the nation, patriotism mixed with prayer in houses of worship as Americans remembered the victims of Tuesday's terrorist attacks. Designated by President Bush as a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance, it was a chance for people to grieve, draw strength from their faith and express their national pride.

Undeterred by the heavy rain and gusty wind from Tropical Storm Gabrielle, about 40 people turned out for a lunchtime service at First Baptist Church of New Port Richey.

"May we lift up broken families, broken hearts, broken bodies," Sanders told worshipers. "If we ever needed a faith-based initiative, it's today."

In Dade City, more than 30 municipal employees, many with rain dripping from yellow slickers, also gathered at noon for a 10-minute service.

Standing near the front of the crowd in City Hall as song filled the room, public works clerk Carla Gordon couldn't hold it in any longer. Tears flowed from her eyes.

"It's just the helplessness," Gordon, 39, said later. "There's nothing I can do but watch it. I see how the world is changing for everyone, for my girls, and you look at the whole, big picture and it's just scary."

Dade City Commissioner Lowell Harris led the group in a brief prayer.

"We are all very angry, very upset and frustrated," Harris said. "Father, give us direction."

Sanders urged people at the New Port Richey church to be thankful for past victories, thoughtful of heroes, watchful of the enemy, mindful of a heritage grounded in faith and careful of arrogance. At the end of the service, he led worshipers in what he called "the hardest prayer."

"We pray for our enemies," Sanders said. "It's so hard to pray for them. . . . I pray that the spirit of God will strike them down, because they need a change of heart.

"Justice will be administered on our enemies."

Kneeling in the front row, Caroline Yachymczyk thought of her nephew, 35-year-old Billy Heppt, a security guard at the World Trade Center who hasn't been heard from since Tuesday's attack. Asked what she prayed for Tuesday, Yachymczyk, 60, fell silent, her eyes red and moist.

She paused for a few seconds, then said, "I asked God to lift our president up, to give him Solomon-like wisdom."

- Staff writer Chase Squires contributed to this report.

Sorrowful relative loses nephew, wants retaliation

Janet Pedicini was giving a lecture on stress reduction when her classroom door opened. The World Trade Center just collapsed, a voice said.

Her nephew, Thomas Pedicini of Long Island, worked on the 104th floor and now she is fearing the worst. Nobody has heard from Thomas.

On Wednesday, rescue workers found the body of one of Thomas' co-workers. Officials have asked the Pedicini family to provide DNA that may help identify Thomas' body when -- and if -- it is found.

"They're asking for dental records, not pictures," Janet said.

Thomas worked as a stockbroker in World Trade Center 1, the first building to be struck by kamikazee terrorists and the second to collapse. Thomas' brother-in-law, who worked alongside him, got him the job. Both are now missing.

Janet Pedicini said she thinks her nephew never made it off his floor.

"My brother told me the plane hit right below them, and with that explosion . . . ," she said. "The kids were doing so well; it's such a travesty."

Pedicini, a counselor at the Hernando Correctional Institution, wants revenge. And she wants it quick.

"I believe in retaliation. I believe in the death penalty. I'd like to see us kick some butt."

- KENT FISCHER

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