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On Easter, prayers for peace

April 12, 2004|by WANDA T. WILLIAMS

wandaw@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Cures for cancer, requests for God's mercy and an end to the conflict in the Middle East were among the numerous prayer requests filling the pages of the prayer book at St. Mary Catholic Church.

The 400-seat sanctuary was filled with young and old, black and white.

The crowd overflowed to the balcony for Sunday's three Masses at one of Hagerstown's largest churches.

With nearly every space in the parking lot filled, churchgoers rushed inside, escaping Sunday's light but cold rain. Before taking a seat, some wrote prayer requests before the prayer book was moved to the altar for congregational prayer.

"When you pray for someone else, it's always better," said church member Juanita Maloney of Hagerstown.

People want to pray for peace and they are genuinely concerned for the young men and women overseas, the Rev. George Limmer said. Limmer, pastor of the church, said the prayer book represents the voice of the congregation.

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He said he's received a constant flow of prayer requests from relatives who have loved ones in Iraq. Limmer hoped this year's Easter Sunday celebration would overshadow many personal concerns and worries.

But some longtime members said they feel the war in Iraq, coupled with a rash of recent political scandals, has drawn people closer to God.

"People probably are coming to church more this Easter just to pray for their loved ones and anybody involved with this war," said Pat Guhr of Hagerstown, a church member since the early 1970s.

Other longtime members such as Debbie Johnson, also of Hagerstown, agreed the church is a safe haven in a climate of eroding public trust.

"Politicians - you can't believe them anymore. But you can come to church to restore that," said Johnson.

Bob Schleigh, 66, has been a church usher since he was 16. He said he's optimistic and glad to have good health at his age, but he feels that U.S. involvement in Iraq has fueled a climate of uncertainty.

"A lot of people don't know what's going to happen with the war," he said.

St. Mary Minister of Music Harold Edward Wills said he's seen a spike in attendance and participation recently.

"Most of the services were packed this year," Wills said. "I've been moved by it. The participation has been incredible."

Wills said the recent media attention in the aftermath of 9/11 makes it hard for the public to heal and move on with life. He said music offers sanctuary, reconstitution and inspiration to those in poor spirits.

Howard University School of Divinity professor Cain Hope Felder said in a telephone interview last week that the social climate for Easter 2004 is unlike others, "with all the corporate scandals that accompany global terrorism."

"People begin to feel insecure, which makes them raise questions about their relationship with God," he said.

In Sunday's church bulletin, Limmer cites the movie "The Passion of the Christ" as evidence of the immense price of Christ's sacrifice. Felder, who has some misgivings about historical aspects of the film, credits the movie with raising religious consciousness and sensitivity.

"We need to wake up and do some introspection and look at things that matter," he said.

Felder said prayer book requests are small acts of piety that should be followed with a broader discussion on how local communities can think globally and act locally to work toward world peace.

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