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USC students search for faith, hope

By Lori Stuenkel

(U-WIRE) LOS ANGELES -- University of Southern California students, along with people all over the country, are turning to prayer to find something to sustain and comfort them in the wake of last Tuesday's terrorist attacks.

Those who conducted and attended various church services during the weekend sought to remember the victims of the attacks while exploring peaceful ways for the United States to recover and react.

"We cannot come to prayer without recalling the events of last week," said Father William Messenger, director of the USC Catholic Center. He said that scripture points only to healing that it can provide strength, and not just comfort, for people seeking to recover. He also noticed that people's dependence on the church has increased since Tuesday's attacks.

"It happens in times of crisis; we turn to a higher power," he said. Messenger's homily also included a theme from the prayer service attended by President Bush on Friday: "We should not become the evil we abhor."

He acknowledged that people feel outraged at the situation, and attempted to answer the question of how to respond.

"I know my anger pales in comparison to people whose friends and relatives are dead," he said. "People jump to use language of hatred, retaliation, revenge. This should not be our response and people are asking, 'Then what (should be)? How do we respond?'"

The church teaches forgiveness, and that is what people want to practice, he said.

"I don't know that I am ready to forgive what happened, I'm just not ready," he said, "But I'm also not ready to respond with more bombs." People looking to forgive can do so, if the look to the church for guidance, Messenger said.

People of many faiths were echoing that sentiment as they assembled to honor the victims and lives consumed by the terrorist attacks. At USC's emotional Coming Together service held in Bovard Auditorium on Friday, Rabbi Susan Laemmle asked those in attendance to remember, first and foremost, the victims of the attacks.

"We come together in remembrance and prayer," she said, "Prayer for those who have died, family and friends, our beloved country, the world and universe and God's own self (because) He grieves when the world wars against itself."

The service was held on the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance declared by President George W. Bush.

Students, staff and faculty filled the auditorium and sat in reserved silence as a dozen campus religious groups offered prayers, music and words of comfort.

That silence was interrupted only by the sound of crying, and the spontaneous applause following the a speech by Michael Jackson, vice president of Student Affairs.

"We want peace and yet are outraged and want to strike back," he said. "I know I'm scared. I'm profoundly sad for those who have been killed, for those about to be killed."

"Students, this is your world: help us find the peace."

Groups at the service repeated prayers for victims and families, rescuers, the United States, the world and the attackers themselves. USC Baha'i Club offered a Prayer for America, asking the country to concentrate on love and unity.

"Do not think the peace of this world is impossible to obtain," said Shabnam Mogharbari, a senior majoring in print journalism. "Nothing is impossible."

Other prayers, music and messages came from Muslim Students of USC, Intervarsity Trojan Christian Fellowship, Hillel Jewish Center, Students of Ancient Religions, USC Catholic Center, Canterbury USC, USC Buddhist Association, and United University Church.

The service ended with the singing of "America the Beautiful," after which the audience improvised with "God Bless America."

"(The service) was really uplifting, there was a sense of unity," said Alfonso Ruiz, a freshman majoring in business. "Especially the ending when everyone got together and sang."

Around the same time as the USC service, prayers were being held at the Umar ibn Al Khatab Mosque at Vermont Ave. and Exposition Blvd. Though it was a regular weekly service, security around the mosque was increased; two private guards and an LAPD officer were standing by for precautionary measure.

The attacks and its effects on Muslims were addressed during the service, said Mustafa Elfarra, a senior majoring in business and a member of the Muslim Student Association. Elfarra said he preferred to deal with the aftermath of the tragedy within his religious community.

"Islam has its own way of dealing with it," he said, "But it is good that faiths get together, although we don't necessarily have to."

On Friday evening, Hillel held a weekly Shabbat service. Though the service was not specifically a memorial for the attacks, the subject was addressed because it was clearly on people's minds.

"Shabbat is joyful," said Rabbi Jonathan Klein. "Though it is hard to reconcile that with the tragedies, we will move from mourning to joy." Because there were no students at one service who had members of their immediate family die in the attack, the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer of mourning, was not recited. But, the ceremonial lighting of candles took on a deeper meaning when the victims and their families were remembered.

Students there sought a sense of community to help them deal with the tragedy.

"This is as good a time as ever to come to reflect on everything," said Sara Mack, a freshman majoring in theater. "(I came for) the community of everybody getting together."

©Copyright 2001, Daily Trojan

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