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Songs of Healing Resound at New York's Makeshift Shrines


As New Yorkers of many nationalities have gathered to cope with the enormity of September 11 terrorist atrocities, Manhattan's public parks and squares have been transformed into vast makeshift shrines filled with candles and flowers, photos and mementos of the victims and song.

During normal times, Union Square in Manhattan is a peaceful place for office workers, pigeons and sleeping homeless people. But these days, Union Square has become a sort of open air international church as New Yorkers from many nationalities come to express their grief and their hopes for healing through music.

Many of the eighty men, women and children in this group grasp both Latin American and U.S. flags while singing their song of peace and remembrance. Others bear candles or pictures of Our Lady of Guadeloupe and other religious symbols.

Jocelyn Soles stands on a box helping to translate the occasional speech. She said, "We're organizing a vigil for the lost people and victims of the World Trade Center tragedy. And we are here to ask for peace. We want to tell the American people that we are not in favor of war and we want everyone, no matter what race, creed, whatever to join together in solidarity against any future act of violence and terror in the world.

Adam Phillips: "What is the Latino aspect of this?"

Jocelyn Soles: "Many of our Mexican immigrant brothers and sisters and other Latinos who work in the most humble jobs were there in the [crash] area and we have been working with their families in order to locate them, to see whether they are alive, where they are, if they are disappeared, [and] if they died. We need to get that information out."

Across the asphalt expanse under a grove of trees, members of the Family Federation for World Peace, a Japanese group that came to New York for their annual convention the day before the terrorist strike, clasps their hands and sings their own song.

Aya Kohela explains why. She said, "We wanted to comfort those people who went to another world in one second. We wanted them to find peace in the heart of God. So we came here to offer prayer."

Ms. Kohela says that this is not a religious song. It's a folk tune about a scarlet butterfly. "Which you can find in the autumn, there are a whole lot of red dragonflies in the countryside of Japan," she said. "So many of us have memories of when we were young we used to catch[them]."

Adam Phillips: "Why was an appropriate song to sing in this context?"

Aya Kohela: "Many Japanese were also a part of the casualties so we wanted to do that for those people who wanted comfort, that the life that they lived on this earth, now they passed on to another world and we wanted them to remember their childhood. And they take [it] on in the journey to another world."

Adam Phillips: "So you were actually speaking to the people who died."

Aya Kohela: "And also the families of victims to find comfort and heal their heart. That was our desire."

There was one song part hymn, part folk tune, part anthem, that all Americans, new and old, could sing and take comfort in in the blue candlelit dusk - America the Beautiful.

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