ROCHESTER — A couple days after the United States’ March 19, 2003, invasion of Iraq, Michael Brennan and more than a dozen others from the Rochester Area Mennonite Fellowship braved the freezing cold to stand outside Rochester’s Federal Building to protest the invasion and pray for peace.
“It was really a time of lamenting. It was sorrow, it was grief,” Brennan recalled.
Six years later, Brennan marked the anniversary of the ongoing war in Iraq by gathering with dozens of other peace-minded people at Sacred Heart Cathedral for an interfaith prayer service to pray for peace. During the service representatives from various faith backgrounds spoke about the ways their faiths value peace and read relevant peace-related passages from their holy books.
Dr. Mohammed Shafiq, imam and executive director of the Islamic Center of Rochester, read several verses from chapter 41 of the Quran that talked about repelling evil with good and gave his own thoughts about war.
“I don’t think the troubles of the world can be resolved with violence and fighting. It will be resolved with reconciliation, peace and forgiveness,” he said.
The Rev. Susan Hartley, pastor of Scottsville Union Presbyterian Church, read several verses about peace from chapter 12 of Romans, and Joyce Herman of Rochester’s Temple Sinai read a prayer for peace. Marvin Mich, president of the Greater Rochester Community of Churches and director of social policy for Rochester’s Catholic Family Center, read Matthew’s account of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, in which he encouraged his disciples to love their enemies.
Brennan read the prayer he and his fellow Mennonites had prayed outside the Federal Building six years ago. The prayer expressed sorrow over the death of God’s children in Iraq and asked for forgiveness for American’s greed, arrogance and complicity in the violence in Iraq. He also read several passages from Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective.
“We believe that peace is the will of God. God created the world,” Brennan read. “Led by the Holy Spirit, we follow Christ in the way of peace, doing justice, bringing reconciliation and practicing nonresistance even in the face of violence and warfare.”
Denise Mack, pastoral associate at Church of the Assumption in Fairport, led those gathered in a call to transformation. When they entered the cathedral participants had been given smooth stones that symbolized the grief, remorse, pain and shame caused by the war in Iraq. After the call to transformation, people slowly processed to the altar and one by one dropped their stones into a basket. Mack then poured water over the stones and asked God to soften participants’ hearts the way water smooths the rough edges of rocks.
Local Catholic peace activist Harry Murray led a litany for an end to conflict in all corners of the world, and Father Gary Tyman, sacramental minister at the clustered Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Brighton and St. Anne Parish in Rochester, concluded the vigil with a prayer and a request. He asked attendees to take stones from a different basket on their way out. Each of the stones in this basket had been emblazoned with the name of someone killed during the war in Iraq.
“We invite you to make (the stone) part of your prayer, to pray for that person and their family, to put it in a spot of prayer or a corner of prayer in your home,” Father Tyman said.
The St. John of Rochester Children’s Choir from Fairport performed a heartfelt rendition of “Together We’ll Share” before leading those gathered in “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”
The prayer service was intended to help people from various backgrounds and faith communities come together and realize they share the common goal of peace, said Tony Bezila, a member of the Catholic peace group Pax Christi Rochester, which cosponsored the event with diocesan Catholic Charities and the GRCC. Nonviolence and peace should be of the utmost concern to Catholics if they truly believe in the sanctity of life, he added.
“As a Christian and a Catholic, we need to stand for peace, and that means opposing war,” added Murray, a fellow Pax Christi member. “I think when Jesus told us to love our enemies he wasn’t joking, and I think that we do need to start taking that seriously.”
President Barack Obama has said he plans to start moving most troops out of Iraq by the end of this summer, but that plan is not good enough, Murray noted, because it calls for up to 50,000 troops to remain in Iraq.
“We’re not moving in the direction that any peace-loving (person) can recognize as legitimate. We need to raise our voices louder than ever,” he said.
Murray said he’s been participating in peace protests and prayer services for more than 25 years, and although he thinks the country hasn’t taken great strides toward peace, he still has hope that one day peace will reign.
“We’ve seen very little progress, but we are called to be faithful, not successful,” he said.
Individuals can help bring about peace in small ways when they promote peace within their own homes, and indeed Catholics are called to do so, Mich noted.
“I hope that events like this awaken the call to be a church that builds peace,” he said.
This story was updated on March 31, 2009.