Thursday is Thanksgiving Day in the United States. It is a holiday on which many Americans gather with family and friends to share a large meal usually turkey. Many Americans also gather at churches with members of their own or different faiths, and offer thanks for what they consider to be blessings in their lives. In Chicago, religious leaders offered prayers of thanksgiving and unity a few days ahead of the holiday.
As the sound of bagpipes played by a Chicago Police officer filled the First United Methodist Church in downtown Chicago Tuesday, local police officers and firefighters formed a procession to the front of the church.
Ralph Scheu of the Chicago Hundred Club, which helps families of fallen police and firefighters, said the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington remind us that these men and women are among our blessings.
"If anything good came out of New York," he said, "it was the realization for many people of the heroes that serve us daily that make our life possible. All of our law enforcement people, our firefighting people, our emergency medical people, give of themselves for you and for me without hesitation."
The tragedy of September 11 seemed to be a theme in a prayer service that asked for peace and tolerance. Reverend Stanley Davis of the Chicago-based National Conference for Community and Justice said that despite the pain, suffering and anxiety created by the attacks, there is much to be thankful for.
"Much of that for which we are grateful is common among us. We are thankful for life, for the human family in all of its diversity, for family, generations past, present and generations to come," said the reverend.
Representatives of 14 faiths offered their own prayers of thanksgiving, peace and unity. Peggy DesJarlait spoke on behalf of Native Americans. "The secret to unity is taking another person's needs, feelings and desires onto yourself," she said. "Unity is wonderful when it happens."
A Muslim offered thanks to God and a prayer that all people strive to do what is right and beneficial; a Hindu prayed that people might be happy and free from danger.
Asayo Horibe spoke on behalf of Chicago's Buddhists. "We surround all people and all forms of life with infinite love and compassion," he said, "particularly do we send forth loving thoughts to those in suffering in sorrow; doubt and ignorance; and to those who are striving to attain truth."
And Hema Pokharna asked the 200 people in attendance to join her in a chant for peace.
Many people travel hundreds of kilometers to visit loved ones for Thanksgiving. Mary Peters of Chicago will be at home with some close family members who live nearby. "I have more peace this year than I have had in a long time," she said. "Because you can see all the people coming together after September 11, and how they flocked back to church. They are together, helping each other. It is like mutual brothers and sisters."
Some Chicagoans will eat Thanksgiving dinner at their place of worship. Mary Strozewski will host members of her local Church of Scientology. She says the events of September 11 place a new emphasis on work with people to make a peaceful change in the world. "We absolutely, positively believe that things can change if we all put the postulate there and find out what it is that puts man's savage instincts there and just simply get rid of it," she said.
Those attending the service will have made a small difference for some people. Money collected during the offering will be used to buy dinners for poor families in Chicago.