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Worshipers Seek Comfort in Giving

Devastation in Asia Inspires Sermons, Prompts Donations

By Debbi Wilgoren
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 3, 2005; Page B01

The Biblical reading for yesterday's worship at the National Presbyterian Church in Northwest Washington was chosen years ago -- long before an underwater earthquake triggered a massive, deadly tsunami half a world away. But the words, from the prophet Isaiah, seemed eerily appropriate for parishioners struggling to draw meaning from the tragedy.

"Darkness shall cover the earth . . . but the Lord will arise upon you. Nations shall come to your light. . . ."

Nisha Niroshini of Germantown clasps her hands in prayer amid participants at an interfaith worship service for community members and immigrants from Sri Lanka at Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church in Bethesda. (Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)

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"The wealth of nations shall come to you."

Pastor Gareth Icenogle announced at all three morning services that money placed in the silver collection plates would go to victims of the tsunami. In his sermons, he spoke of the importance of the relief efforts.

"The tsunami in the Indian Ocean has caused this incredible destruction, but it has also provided tremendous opportunity," Icenogle said. "The wealth of the world is pouring out to those who have lost everything."

A week after the tsunami hit, its victims were uppermost in the minds of many worshipers in the Washington area. Catholic parishes in the Archdiocese of Washington set up special collections in response to the devastation, said Susan Gibbs, an archdiocese spokeswoman. Clergy from many denominations spoke of the disaster from the pulpit. Church and synagogue bulletins and Web sites were updated hastily to include information on how to donate.

Among those who heard the call was national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, who regularly attends National Presbyterian and was at yesterday's 10 a.m. service.

"This is the way that Americans respond. They respond through their churches and through their communities," Rice, whom President Bush has nominated to succeed Colin L. Powell as secretary of state, said in a brief interview. "What the government does is important, but what each individual American does is even more important."

Micah King, 29, a law student who also attended the service, said he took comfort in the outpouring of generosity in response to such an epic act of nature. "It's so nice to see how people come together," he said. "People don't even think twice about it. They just dig in their pockets."

The message of giving permeated an interfaith worship service at Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church in Bethesda yesterday afternoon for community members and immigrants from Sri Lanka, one of the hardest-hit countries, with nearly 30,000 confirmed dead. The event drew almost 200 people and raised $5,460, organizers said.

Prayers came from Buddhist monks in orange robes and a Hindu woman in a sari. They came from Bradley Hills Pastor Susan Andrews during a short sermon and from Sri Lankan Gregory Fernandopulle, who led the recitation of the Hail Mary prayer.

"Beloved Lord of Lords . . . doth thou not see the madness of the ocean as it rushed in its frenzy to kill and destroy?" asked Kanaga Ranganathan, a Hindu, during the ceremony. "Oh Lord, in our desperate need for Thee in this hour of darkness, we search for Thee."

The event was sponsored by the Sri Lanka Association of Greater Washington and the Sri Lankan American Catholic Association of Metropolitan Washington.

Rizwan Mowlana's voice broke as he told the crowd how he has lost more than 40 family members in the flood. More are missing. One of the victims was his first cousin, who was traveling south from the capital of Colombo for a beach vacation with his wife and three children, he said. The tsunami water flooded their van, drowning all inside except Mowlana's 3-year-old nephew. Mowlana choked back tears as he recounted how his cousin threw the child out of the window in a desperate, but successful, attempt to save his life.

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