Bahai News - Mourning continues in San Francisco ceremony for victims of attacks

Mourning continues in San Francisco ceremony for victims of attacks

By Justin Pritchard
Associated Press Writer

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- As the nation lurches toward normalcy, religious officials in San Francisco Monday echoed a plea for tolerance and mutual respect at a large interfaith ceremony honoring victims of last week's terrorist attacks.

A palette of religious leaders -- from the pink robes of San Francisco's Catholic archbishop to the dark suit of a local rabbi -- exhorted meekness and mutual understanding.

They spoke at a 7,000-capacity Bill Graham Civic Auditorium with barely an empty seat, as hundreds more watched on a video screen in the sun-bathed plaza outside City Hall.

The ceremony began at noon with a Muslim call to prayer and ended nearly three hours later with "God Bless America."

In between, religious leaders representing Sikhs, Buddhists, Baha'i and a half-dozen Protestant denominations urged the audience not to succumb to inner demons of prejudice and hate.

"We cannot let our anger overwhelm us to blindly strike out against our Muslim brothers and sisters," said Rabbi Martin Weiner of San Francisco's congregation Sherith Israel.

Police have investigated dozens of reported hate crimes against Arab Americans in the days since the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, including dozens of threatening phone calls made to the Islamic Society of San Francisco's mosque.

"We abhor violence visited on any person or group," said Rev. Cecil Williams of the city's Glide Memorial Church. "Violence only begs for more violence."

Similar ceremonies were held at the University of California, Berkeley and Santa Clara University, which lost junior Deora Bodley when United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in rural Pennsylvania.

While the religious leaders in San Francisco spoke of forgiveness under God, several political figures peppered their speeches with promises of retribution.

Former secretary of state and San Francisco resident George Schultz said the country needs to develop "tolerance for secrecy and execution," an apparent reference to the covert war President Bush has promised against terrorists.

"The best defense is a great offense," Schultz said.

Though he too urged decisive retribution against those responsible for the attacks, Gov. Gray Davis also urged audience members that "Americans do not retaliate against their fellow Americans."

California's two senators also honored Bay Area men who may have helped foil the plans of the hijackers of United Flight 93.

Sen. Barbara Boxer presented a U.S. flag to Paul Holm, the partner of Mark Bingham, one of the men credited with helping to bring down the plane before it reached its intended target.

"It was Mark's nature to protect the weaker," said a tearful Holm, who elicited a laugh from the audience when he described Bingham as heroic, friendly and much like "a huge human Labrador retriever."

Audience members hugged each other as the ceremony ended.

"There's no excuse for me not to be here," said Cora Grimm, who took a long lunch from her job at the federal Department of Health and Human Services to attend the service. "I wanted to hear more words about tolerance and acceptance."


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