- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 16, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 16 (UPI) — Hundreds of candles lit up Washington's Lincoln Memorial Sunday evening when religious leaders from across the United States gathered to pray for peace in Iraq.

Several thousand people joined the prayers, holding their candles high.

"Keep your candles burning, some people are blind to light," said Rev. Graylan Hagler as he prayed for peace "for the children of Iraq who may die if bombs start falling."

Hagler is a longtime Washington political activist and senior minister of the Plymouth Congregational Church on North Capitol Street NW.

"All doors lead to you, Lord. Give peace to Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs," prayed a Sikh priest.

An Arab woman urged Arabs and Muslims living in America "to be humble and learn from the African-Americans how to struggle against injustice."

"All we are saying, give peace a chance," sang an inter-faith band from the stage. Keeping time with the song, the crowd swayed to and from, making little lines of light that seemed to join each other.

The black wall of the nearby Vietnam memorial reflected the light back and from a distance it looked like hundreds of bright flowers growing out of the wall.

"Keep the light shining," sang the band and the crowd repeated.

They stayed there for more than two hours, struggling to keep their candles burning in rain and wind.

Similar vigils will be held in other cities across the world where thousands more will turn to prayers to stop a war that looks increasingly unavoidable.

It was at the memorial that Rev. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. made his historic speech of his dream of racial harmony in the United States. And only a few hundred yards from the memorial is the White House where war plans are apparently receiving final touches.

But a strange serenity descended on the greens of the National Mall as peace-lovers prayed quietly, seeking God's help to stop a war they do not want.

After the prayers, they made a long line of lights from Lincoln Memorial to the White House but were not allowed to walk around the presidential home as they had planned. Instead, police guided them to the H Street where some of them stopped in front of the White House, singing their songs again before dispersing finally.

On Saturday, tens of thousands of anti-war protesters marched to the White House from the mall. They had come from more than 100 American cities to tell President Bush that all of "America wants peace," as the organizers said.

But by Sunday evening an eerie silence returned to the mall. Most of the outside demonstrators had already left the U.S. capital. Those who stayed were quiet and pensive.

"When it (the sun) rises again on Monday morning, I hope the administration would have realized there are two superpowers in the world: the United States and world opinion," said the Rev. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches. "And the world opinion is against the war."

But organizers of Saturday's march were on Sunday quietly expressing the fear that this was their last stand against an invasion of Iraq.

"We do what we have to do," said a protester in a voice choking with emotion. Earlier in the day, he was carrying a placard with the message, "Stop Mad Cowboy Disease" above a picture of Bush.

"No blood for oil, no blood for oil," murmured another protester who stayed at the mall even after it was dark. "No blood for oil," he repeated quietly before moving to the nearest metro station.

But even during the day, when the entire area was ringing with anti-war slogans, there was no one at the White House to listen.

Its tenant was not at home. Bush, who has spearheaded the drive to disarm Iraq, by force if necessary, was at Camp David, Md., preparing for Sunday's summit in the Azores with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Spain's Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and Portugal Prime Minister Durao Barroso.

Despite the march's peaceful atmosphere, Washington police said six protesters were arrested. Five protesters were arrested Saturday for entering the World Bank headquarters in downtown Washington. Police said those arrested have been charged with unlawful entry, while officers believe seven others escaped through a shattered window.

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