Interfaith Prayer Service for Peace
Followed by a Peace March around the Gandhi statue at the MLK Historic Site.
Friday, August 18. The Atlanta Conference of Sisters and the Faith Alliance of Metro Atlanta hosted an Interfaith Prayer Service for peace at the imposing, historic Ebenezer Baptist Church adjoining the Gandhi Statue at the MLK Historic Site. Over 300 members of the Leadership Conference of Women, members of the Gandhi Foundation of USA and members of the Education Unit of CARE USA joined in the prayers for peace in the current turbulent times.
The service commenced with a fine organ prelude by Tim Wissler, organist of the Cathedral of Christ the King Church. Next, Joan McCann, of Atlanta Conference of Sisters (ACS) greeted the audience and requested them to observe a moment's silence and pray for peace. The Jewish Temple's First Cantor, Deborah Numark, sang a captivating Hebrew prayer song in a flawless intonation.
Imam Plemon T. El-Amin, of Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam; Rabbi Albert Slomovitz of Gesher L'Torah Synagogue in Atlanta; Valentina Sheridan, RSM of Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas; Gilbert "Budd" Friend-Jones, of Central Congregational United Church of Christ and Dr. Jamillah Karim of Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam and an Asst. Prof. of Religion at Spellman College; Raj Razdan, Founder and Executive Director of Senior Citizen Program Inc. all spoke about meaning of peace, different aspects of peace, and the need for promoting peace amidst a current environment of war.
Imam Plemon spoke about the bond between Gandhi and King and quoted King, "Gandhi was inevitable. If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. He lived, thought and acted, inspired by the vision of humanity evolving toward a world of peace and harmony. We may ignore Gandhi at our own risk."
The Buddhist monks from Drepung Loseling Monastery, dressed in vibrant red and saffron robes, recited sacred Tibetan chant in unwavering vocal virtuosity, gradually raising the pitch to a crescendo, all in unison.
All the speakers enlightened the congregation with eloquent delivery of spiritualism and speeches. Raj Razdan, representing the Hindu faith expressed her immense pleasure and honor to provide the benediction on peace at a location where humanity's two most revered apostles of peace are memorialized. Her reference was to the life size bronze statue of Mahatma Gandhi adjoining the new Ebenezer Church. The Gandhi Statue was dedicated and inaugurated in January 1998.
Raj recited a poem By India's Nobel Laureate, Poet Rabindranath Tagore
"Go not to the temple to put flowers upon the feet of God,
first fill your own house with the fragrance of love...
Go not to the temple to light candles, before the altar of God,
First remove the darkness of sin from your heart...
Go not to the temple to bow down your head in prayer,
First learn to bow in humility before your fellowmen...
Go not to the temple to pray on bended knees,
First bend down to lift someone who is downtrodden...
Go not to the temple to ask for forgiveness for your sins,
First forgive from your heart those who have sinned against you...
Then Raj recited a popular Hindu Shloka "
Om sarveshaam swastir bhavatu
Sarveshaam shantir bhavatu Sarveshaam poornam bhavatu
Sarveshaam mangalam bhavatu Sarve bhavantu sukhinah
Sarve santu niraamayaah Sarve bhadraani pashyantu
Maakaschit duhkha bhaag bhavet
[Auspiciousness be unto all; peace be unto all; fullness be unto all; prosperity be unto all. May all be happy. May all be free from disabilities. May all look to the good of others. May none suffer from sorrow.]
The grand finale at the Church was the singing of the patriotic song America the beautiful led by Cantor Deborah Numark.
The highlight of the interfaith prayer service, undoubtedly, was the Peace March that followed. Leaders of the Gandhi Foundation and the Indian American community, Subash Razdan, Giriraj Rao, Antony Thaliath, Kumkum Kashiparikh, Mahadev Desai, Leela Kaul, Raj Razdan, Sneha Mehta, Srikant Konda, Ravi Ponangi, Shawn Rao, Swaminathan and many others led the congregation from the Church in a Peace March to the Gandhi statue.
Sr. Mary-beth Beres welcomed all and invited Sr. Bea Eichten, Joan McCann, and a member of CARE USA to step forward and light one of the wicks of the traditional Hindu diya (lamp) sanctifying the environment. The leaders and representatives of participating faiths laid flowers to solemnly honor Gandhi with reverence. Over 300 present joined in singing one of the most beloved prayer songs of Gandhiji- Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram, a song of unity and brotherhood among all people, and calling for respect towards all. At the statue, Kumkum Kashiparekh presented a memento to the convener Mary-beth Beres for her dedication and her initiative of outreach with the community.
The elegant and uplifting service where prayers and poetry were offered by leaders from a range of faith traditions including Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism was lauded as participants encouraged each other to reach out and live together as a people, a nation, and a global community with respect and love for each other in peace.
- Mahadev Desai
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