Toledoans turned out by the hundreds Sunday for two prayer rallies, one to seek God's blessing on the city and the nation, the other asking for peace in the Middle East.
About 500 people attended an ecumenical prayer service in the Valentine Theatre last night that was organized by a cross section of local Christian leaders.
Prayers were offered for unity among denominations and for divine help in overcoming the economic crisis affecting the city, state, nation, and world.
Mayor Carty Finkbeiner read a proclamation declaring Jan. 18, 2009, as Holy Toledo Day of Prayer, and said the "best opportunity to overcome some of that which is in front of us is to perhaps live up to what we have internationally been known as - Holy Toledo."
Mr. Finkbeiner is going to Washington for President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration Tuesday, but said he might visit public housing projects and barber shops there instead of the political events so that he can "see what the average people are thinking."
More than a dozen ministers stood together on the Valentine stage and about half of them took turns leading prayers.
The Rev. Tony Scott, pastor of the Church on Strayer, asked God to forgive Toledoans and Americans for sinning, including "kicking You out of our government and kicking You out of our schools."
The Rev. Will James, Jr., pastor of St. James Holiness "The Armory" Church, prayed for wisdom for President-elect Obama and Toledo's city officials, and offered a poetic and encouraging slogan: "We know that everything will be fine in 2009."
The Rev. Martin Donnelly, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, prayed for unity among churches and said it is wrong "to believe that one church is better than any other one as long as we follow Jesus Christ."
Despite the nation's struggles, Father Donnelly said, "We are hope-filled. We are not depressed. We are confident we will overcome."
Earlier Sunday, more than 100 people attended an interfaith rally offering prayers for peace in the Middle East.
Among them was Sister Geraldine Nowak, a Sylvania Franciscan nun, who wore a purple button with the word "Peace" written in Arabic, English, and Hebrew.
The prayer gathering was held in an assembly hall of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo in Perrysburg Township and featured brief comments and prayers from 14 people representing Islam, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, and Sufism.
Most of the speakers opened with criticisms over the loss of civilian lives in Gaza caused by Israeli air and ground attacks, followed by brief prayers.
"The fighters on either side are hiding and innocent people are caught in the middle and being killed," said Dr. Munier Nazzal, president of the Islamic Center.
The Rev. Larry Clark, pastor of First United Methodist Church of Sylvania, called for an immediate cease-fire in the region and decried "the insane cycle of rocket attacks and aerial bombardments."
Dr. Amjad Hussain said that while prayers are welcome, it's time for action.
"We get together, we hold hands, we say the prayers, we leave until the next episode happens. And I ask - it's not a rhetorical question - I ask, what happens in between? What have we done in between, all of us, people of faith, in between these episodes, to make a difference?
"Prayers are important but prayers cannot substitute for action and work," said Dr. Hussain, a former president of the Islamic Center and a columnist for The Blade.
In an emotional moment, Father Donnelly - who spoke at both prayer rallies - said he felt compelled to apologize for not being more active in anti-war efforts.
"I suppose I'm among those who haven't done much," he said pausing, choked with emotion.
"I'm touched by the conscience of a world gone deaf to the holocaust of the 21st century."
Dr. Mahjabeen Islam of the Toledo Muslim Forum prayed for God "to awaken the conscience of the world and jolt it from this criminal, complicit silence" over the Gaza killings.
Other speakers at the 75-minute event included Judy Trautman of the MultiFaith Council of Northwest Ohio, Ziad Hummos of Masjid Saad, the Rev. David Bruning of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Fremont, the Rev. Ed Heilman of Park United Church of Christ, the Rev. Steve Anthony of Toledo Area Ministries, and Imam Farooq Abo-Elzahab of the Islamic Center.
Contact David Yonke at: