9-16-05 - Americans across the country joined Friday in a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance for victims of Hurricane Katrina, looking for lessons in the vast suffering and seeking the strength to overcome the tragedy.
President Bush called for the special day of worship, held nearly three weeks after the storm devastated the Gulf Coast.
The Rev. Michael Mannion, in a 40-minute service at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Camden, N.J., recalled a story of a missionary family in China told by soldiers to gather a few belongings and leave. The missionaries simply left with their children.
Mannion said Katrina has taught the same lesson.
"The learned what's important. They learned who's important. They learned that it's each other who are important," he said.
While many houses of worship planned to participate, several others around the country said they had already held such services and would not join the president. Some said they were so angry over the government's sluggish response to blacks and poor people in New Orleans, who waited days for rescue, that they would not heed Bush's request.
"Not to be critical, but the president is a little late," said the Rev. Reginald Jackson, president of the Black Ministers Council of New Jersey.
The Rochester Islamic Center, a mosque in Minnesota, held three days of prayer and fundraising for Katrina victims last weekend, said Zaid Khalid, the center's president.
Rabbi David Kaufman of Temple B'nai Jeshurun in Des Moines, Iowa, said he has also been mentioning the evacuees at every Friday night service _ the start of the Jewish Sabbath.
The Rev. Enoch Fuzz, president of the Interdenominational Ministers Fellowship, which represents about 100 Tennessee pastors, said his group planned nothing different for Friday, but was focusing on organizing more aid for victims.
"We need a prayer that's walking and not just talking," Fuzz said. "We need a prayer with legs right now."
Still, worship services have been especially important in the Gulf Coast and in communities that took in large numbers of evacuees, and many planned to join the national event Friday. Congregations across Texas, which helped provide support for tens of thousands of displaced survivors, were preparing special prayers.
Cantor Seth Warner of New Orleans, who was uprooted to Houston with his wife and 4-month-old son, planned to attend National Day of Prayer services at Temple Beth-El in San Antonio on Friday night. For Warner, it will be a day of mourning but also of hope.
"I think God is in the soul of those who have been heroes, God is in the midst of those who risked their lives for others, God is in the hearts and minds of those who have given up something so that others can have a little bit, too," he said.
Bush attended a service with other religious and political leaders at the National Cathedral in Washington.
Interdenominational services were set for state Capitols around the country, and in Roman Catholic churches. Catholics have a strong presence in the Gulf Coast, and many dioceses were heavily damaged.
Park Street Church in Boston planned a prayer service Friday afternoon. Several church members have immediate family affected by the storm.
"Naturally, they carry very much the burden of grief and concern, and we're just joining them in helping to carry that burden," said the Rev. Gordon Hugenberger.