Many faiths pray as one for Connecticut victims

FORT WORTH -- From the pulpit of a Methodist church and standing near a rabbi, a Muslim imam expressed sadness Thursday night that families of slain children in Newtown, Conn., will be deprived of the joy of Christmas morning.

Imam Moujahed Bakash of the Islamic Association of Tarrant County stood shoulder to shoulder with Rabbi Andrew Bloom and Baptist pastor Al Meredith to offer prayers for a grieving town 1,600 miles away.

Organized as "Candles for Connecticut," the prayer service at First United Methodist Church near downtown Fort Worth remembered the 20 children and six adults gunned down inside Sandy Hook Elementary School last week.

Mayor Betsy Price and Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead spoke to the gathering of about 250 people before the prayers were offered.

In a quavering voice, Bakash said he was horrified to watch on TV as surviving children, having just witnessed the massacre, were led from the school.

"The image will never go from my head," he said.

Evil exists in the hearts of people everywhere, regardless of their religious faiths, he said. "It is a human issue."

Meredith described how tragedy affects children across the planet -- from faraway places such as Gaza and Nigeria to the malls, movie theaters, homes and churches of America.

Meredith is pastor of Wedgwood Baptist Church, where seven people were slain and seven others were wounded by a killer who attacked a gathering in September 1999.

But Meredith went beyond that to lament the selling of children into international sex slavery and the killing of baby girls because of their gender.

Violence happens "even in our own city where children wonder when the bullets from the latest drive-by shooting will come whizzing through the window," he said.

"This is wrong, O God, so very wrong," Meredith prayed. "Deliver us from our warring ways."

Rabbi Bloom of Congregation Ahavath Sholom in Fort Worth said the victims were children "robbed of their futures" and adults deprived "of their best years."

But their lives still have meaning, he said.

"It is up to us to write the next chapter of their lives," he said, "and this we do in the way we live our lives."

Meredith said, "We indeed are neighbors, and all of our faiths' traditions tell us we must love our neighbors."

Candles were lit for the Sandy Hook victims, whose photographs flashed across a screen as Nicole Popejoy and Anson Onshi sang The Prayer -- a duet made popular in 1999 by Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli.

Toward the end of the service, Meredith said, "No matter your political or religious convictions, we can all agree that God wants us to bless this land."

Then together, the mayor, the police chief, the pastor, the rabbi and the imam all placed right hands on their hearts and sang God Bless America.

Bill Miller, 817-390-7684