Over 5,000 Pledge Patriotic Unity Under God
By Marsha Sereno
More than 5,000 people gathered at the Christian Cultural Center at 12020 Flatlands Avenue last Thursday evening for a candlelight memorial service to honor the lives of those who were lost just thirty days earlier in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and elsewhere in the United States.
The signs of faith that filled the massive auditorium literally spilled out onto the street and were clearly visible on the faces of the hundreds who gathered outside the building to view the service broadcast on giant screens and to hold candles to symbolize not only their faith, but their belief in God as the true light against the darkness of evil that has attacked our nation.
The memorial service, aptly titled "United We Rise" was not merely an opportunity to gather to mourn those loved and lost in the catastrophic events of September 11th, it was a time to remember and celebrate those lives so senselessly shortened and hold steadfast to the faith which would carry those left behind through the task of facing the challenge of life in their absence.
In a stirring musical appeal to God, the United We Rise Choir performed "Heal Our Land". Bishop Roderick Caesar of the Bethel Gospel Tabernacle served as Master of Ceremonies. Scripture was read by Pastor Robert Johansen of the Evangelical Church. "If there’s one thing that’s carried us and sustained us, it’s prayer", he stated.
Prayers were offered up in four different languages: Rev. Steve Po — Living Faith Community Church (Korean), Pastor Lusiano Padilla — Bayridge Christian Center (Spanish), Rev. Dan Mercaldo — Gateway Cathedral (English), Rev. Dr. Henry Kwan — First Baptist Church of Flushing (Chinese).
The memorial service was beamed across the country via satellite and was simulcast in the New York area on WMCA radio.
In the "Images of Unity" video shown on a screen behind the guest speakers, the audiences viewed numerous uplifting scenes of love and courage and comfort neighbor expressed toward neighbor in the midst of the disaster A New York Fire Dept. Color Guard marched to the stage to offer tribute to the city’s heroes and those who perished. The over-five thousand in attendance stood and gave a resounding ovation to emergency personnel in the audience and nationwide. "While citizens were running out of the burning towers," proudly declared Rev. A.R. Bernard Sr., Pastor of the Christian Cultural Center, "these guys were running in."
A particularly poignant moment that made all too clear the fragility and uncertainty of life was experienced by all when Mrs. LaChanze Gooding, widow of Calvin Gooding, a partner in the firm of Cantor Fitzgerald, shared the final moments she spent with her husband on the morning of September 11th. Mrs. Gooding, who is 8 months pregnant and now must be both father and mother to her children, described how her faith has been her strength during this very difficult time, and urged others to "seek out the purpose God has given each of us. "
Howard Lutnick, CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald, a firm that lost over 700 employees in the disaster and who personally suffered the loss of a brother in the tragic events, shared his company’s concern for the welfare of the victim’s families as well as their plan to "care for the families we loved and lost.........to make it work for the long run."
Messages of inspiration and hope were offered by Pastor Bernard and (via satellite) the Rev. Franklin Graham. "The human spirit is the candle of the Lord," declared Rev. Bernard who went on to say that the selfless acts of so many are proof that that light cannot be extinguished.
As lights were dimmed in the auditorium and Marissa Felder sang "Still I Rise", the light of 5000 candles bathed the room in a soft yellow glow. Outside the building, hundreds were huddled side by side, trying to prevent the night breezes from extinguishing the beauty of the flickering candlelights.