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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
The crowd, made up of people of many faiths, joins together to sing “America The Beautiful” at the Prayers for the City event.

Faithful join in prayer for city

Event celebrates diverse traditions, focuses on strengthening community

Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
The Children Dance Group from the Indian Cultural Center performs the Dandiya Dance, a traditional folk dance, at the Prayers For The City on Sunday.
Amir J. Tamir Rasheed offers opening remarks at the Prayers For The City event.

Mayor Tom Henry on Sunday reminded a congregation of Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Baha’is and Unitarians that it has been nearly 12 years since Fort Wayne’s diverse religious sects met for an interfaith prayer event.

“The last time we came together was right after 9/11. We prayed for the victims and their families,” Henry said at the University of Saint Francis Performing Arts Center. “That was a wonderful prayer event, but we never came together as a community to pray for ourselves and to make our city a little bit better.”

The Prayers for the City event brought together religious and community leaders to offer prayers and words of peace from author Elie Wiesel, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and others.

Henry brought together Rev. Dr. Terry Anderson of the Interfaith Network, Amir J. Tamir Rasheed of the Islamic Center of Fort Wayne and Dr. Michael Spath, IPFW professor of Religious Studies, to develop a prayer event for the city late last year. But Henry said that timing has only justified the need for prayer to end violence and promote peace.

This year Fort Wayne and Allen County have seen 17 homicides, including four shootings by police. The most recent police shooting resulted in the death 22-year-old Ryan Koontz who had opened fire in his north-side neighborhood Thursday.

“What has happened over the past three or four months in our community just strengthens the point that we need to get together as a community and pray for each other and pray for our city,” Henry said.

The event featured a call of prayer from Muslim, Jewish and Christian teachings, a devotional dance called the “Dandiya” by the Indian Cultural Center’s Children Dance Group, and choral music from members of the Heartland Chamber Chorale, University of Saint Francis Singers and Voices of Unity.

Besides prayer, Dr. Wendy Robinson, superintendent of Fort Wayne Community Schools, recounted Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee’s thoughts on gender equality; Minn Myint Nan Tin of the Burmese Advocacy Network read the words of Burmese opposition politician Aung San Suu Kyi on peace and kindness; Husanara Khan of the Fort Wayne Islamic Center read Iranian lawyer and activist Shirin Ebadi’s thoughts on human rights.

“We’re asking people from various faiths, various backgrounds and even those that have no faith at all, to look at the deepest part of their lives – what they consider to be absolute, what they consider to be sacred – and to commit themselves to that absolute for the good of the community,” Spath said.

Amir J. Tamir Rasheed said that the diversity of religions within the city are not a simple coincidence but an act of supreme power.

“The Creator in his infinite knowledge and wisdom created diversity in nature and also within the human being,” Rasheed said. “All of us could have been produced with exact same specifications but rather, God willed all of us to be different, he willed that we should be unique human beings.”

Henry said he plans to discuss how to make the event an annual celebration inclusive for all residents.