Candle Light Vigil
for the Children of Iraq.

Vigil for Iraqi children draws 500 to Minneapolis church

By Nolan Zavoral
Star Tribune Dec. 30, 2002

They began arriving an hour early, in numbers that startled organizers.

Finally, as the late-comers were squeezing into St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in Minneapolis on Sunday night, filling all 300 chairs and the floor in front of the altar, the candlelight service for the children of Iraq began -- a 90-minute program of exhortation and prayer, guitar music and slides of the children.

Approximately 500 people attended -- so many that the church's pastor, the Rev. George Wertin, wished aloud afterward that he'd known the long list of sponsoring groups, in which case he would have scheduled the event for the church gymnasium.

Not that Marie Braun, of Women Against Military Madness and the Twin Cities Campaign to Lift Sanctions, was complaining.

"The floor worked just fine," she said, adding that about 125 attended similar vigils over the past five years. "It had a certain feel to it."

A dozen or so people interviewed said they were attending their first peace function or at least one of their first such events. So besides veteran peace activists such as Wertin and Braun and others, there was David Adams, a 45-year-old park worker who drove in from Chaska.

He said he had never been to a peace-connected event.

"I've thought about it for years and years, and I decided it wasn't good just to sit and do nothing," he said. "The older I get, the more I realize how many people don't have what I have. . . . Children are so helpless. We've got to do everything we can to take care of our brothers and sisters."

Gerianne Dier, 50, of Minneapolis gave up her seat to a senior citizen and sat on the floor.

Dier had helped raise a foster daughter from Vietnam, whose father was an American solder killed in the war.

"Children are like the homeless: You see them, but you don't see them. But they're there," said Dier, who works in Hennepin County shelters to provide health care for the homeless.

On the altar and side altars were 250 candles, which organizers said represented the number of Iraqis who died over the weekend because of U.S.-supported economic sanctions. One by one, the candles were extinguished.

Besides the sanctions, of course, some mention was made of President Bush and the buildup of U.S. forces and a possible Iraq invasion.

Two Minneapolis men -- Peter Thompson and Steve Clemens -- showed slides of children they photographed during a recent stay in Iraq with a peace group. Thompson kept the last slide on the screen for several minutes. It was of an Iraqi girl, old and young-looking at the same time, staring straight ahead with large, expressive eyes.

"She reminds me daily to forgive Hussein, to forgive Bush," Thompson said. "She reminds me that I need to speak for her, but also for my own soul.

"If I don't see the brokenness in George Bush, I risk becoming him."

© Copyright 2002 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.

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