On The War:
Angela Montefinise, Reed
For Douglaston residents Robert and Elaine Snyder, the topic of war with Iraq is one that they purposely avoid on Sundays.
week the couple goes to St. Anastasia’s Church for mass, then down to
Scobee Diner for a bite to eat, and while they discuss almost every topic
under the sun, they never talk about war in the Middle East.
this week, as the threat of war moved ever closer to reality, the couple
would not discuss the topic. They have agreed not to talk about politics on
their holy day of rest.
an electrician, said, “Sunday is for God, not for politics. We hear about
this war all week. That’s all that’s on television. We talk about it
constantly. On Sundays, I don’t want to think about it. My mind needs a
agreed, and while munching on a Scobee hamburger, said, “It’s so scary.
When I go to church, I escape from it for a while. There’s no CNN in
church to analyze everything.”
the 12:30 p.m. mass at St. Anastasia’s Church this week, no mention of the
war was made, except for a quick prayer for peace. Robert said, “That’s
the way it should be. We pray for peace and safety, but we should focus on
other things. Politics doesn’t belong in church. The two should be
sentiment echoed throughout Queens this week at religious services spanning
dozens of creeds. Although religious leaders prayed for peace and provided
solace to their communities, the topic of war was by and large left out of
sermons and services.
There were some exceptions, especially in Jewish congregations. But in general, in the City’s most diverse borough, congregations of all types were unified behind one common belief – politics and religion shouldn’t mix.
the Jamaica Muslim Center on 85th Avenue and 168th Street, politics –
including the United States’ policy towards Iraq and the Middle East –
are never a topic during the Center’s sermons, members told the Tribune.
Center’s caretaker Rehan Hassan said ignoring politics is a deliberate
move. Even though the sermons
are short and only given during Friday afternoon prayers, they are still no
time for politics.
is a day for prayer,” Hassan said. “It has a special significance. We
tell people about the prophet Mohammed. When they come here we say,
‘Please come here to pray. If
you have to discuss worldly matters, please don’t do it inside the
Hassan of the Jamaica Muslim Center doesn’t preach at the pulpit, he
agrees that Saddam has to be removed.
for himself, Hassan said, “Anywhere you go peace is the best solution.
Muslims, they don’t want war. But this guy, Saddam, what we hear
about him is not good. He should be removed.”
the Highland Church just down the street, there was a similar reluctance to
associate conflicts in the Middle East with religion.
The pastors who give sermons at the church never take sides between Israel and Palestine or the United States and Iraq, members said. Like the Muslim Center, most attending a service one recent weekend said that they only pray for peace.
just pray for peace,” said a well-dressed man who presented himself as a
spokesman for and financial backer of the church but wouldn’t give his
name. “We pray for the
president, that he makes the right decisions, and we pray for the people,
and we pray for Saddam that maybe he might change for the better.”
same feelings were seen at Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Church in Floral
Park, where priests have not discussed war in their sermons, and congregants
are happy about it. Church parishioner Jack Azzari said, “I go to church
to learn about the Gospel. I come here to pray. I don’t come here to learn
about politics. If I want that, I’ll watch Meet the Press.”
same attitude can be found at St. Anastasia’s in Douglaston and St.
Kevin’s in Flushing, where congregants were reluctant to discuss the war.
One St. Kevin’s parishioner said, “There’s no reason to discuss it at
church. That’s a matter that has nothing to do with mass.”
Pure Presbyterian Church of New York and The Hindu Center, both in Flushing,
have also avoided discussing the war in sermons, but have found their role
in this time of turmoil and uncertainty.
According to Hindu Center President Dr. Uma Mysorekar, the temple plays a “tremendous role” in helping followers deal with the fear of war, and said, “[The Temple] gives a lot of spiritual upliftment and intense faith in God. We believe very strongly that our faith can move mountains and therefore can bring peace.”
said the topic is not discussed during services, though it is mentioned in
the Temple’s canteen, and she said, “There is a lot of anxiety, the
tension and concern is there. People
are worried about traveling, because this is a time when people normally
travel to India, so traveling also is a concern.”
said most followers “pray for peace, essentially” and keep their
personal feelings about the war to themselves, although she said, “Nobody
wants war, definitely.”
added that she will continue to help her followers struggle with feelings of
fear as talk of war continues, and she said, “I think it is important for
us to realize that if there is war, if there is such a catastrophe, we pray
God for his mercy so that we
get the wisdom to face it in a nice pleasant way and go through it like
Pure Presbyterian Church in Flushing, a Korean church that offers Korean and
English language masses, talk of war has not been mentioned in sermons, but
some congregants have discussed the topic with Reverend Kwang Moon, the
church’s English language pastor.
said, “We have discussed it many times on a personal level, but we
didn’t officially give a sermon on this issue.” Some congregants have
come to him for advice or guidance, and he said, “They ask me on a
personal level. Some people are concerned about their family members who are
soldiers on the ground. The other concern is whether the war is justified or
added that his opinion is, “Basically, life is precious. We are very sad
to see that lives could be sacrificed. This means that we hope war does not
happen, but also we know that God allows self-defense. If
America is threatened physically, we have a right to defend.”
many religious leaders are reluctant to speak from the pulpit on issues of
war, there are at least two Jewish leaders who have discussed the issue.
Ernest Mayerfeld, leader of the Orthodox Teffereth Israel Congregation in
Jackson Heights, said he has discussed the possibility of war with Iraq in
his sermons, and although he supports U.S. military intervention, he thinks
Iraq’s rebuilding should be a team effort involving the United Nations.
said, “Number one, evil has to be uprooted. Number two, it is not a one
said his congregation is split roughly in half over whether the United
States should take military action, though he says most members of his
synagogue want to see Iraqi President Saddam Hussein replaced with more
benevolent leadership – or at least disarmed.
said Judaism, and all other religions, are peaceful. But in some cases,
religion and war don’t conflict.
cannot be two standards where I pray for peace and demand war,” he said.
“We have but one goal to achieve, and that is to democratize the world
and, even in Iraq, offer individuals basic freedoms to think for themselves
and go about their lives in the peaceful and uncorrupt ways that we all
Gerald Skolnik of the Conservative Forest Hills Jewish Center said he also
discussed the war during services, and agreed that something needs to be
done in Iraq. He said, “Iraq – if not today, a year from now – will
pose a kind of threat to America that warrants our seeking to eliminate that
added, “I don’t have a moral queasiness about going to war against evil
people. And I’m completely convinced that this is an evil man. I think
even the people
his sermons, he said he tells people to “look to religion to find solace
added, “I don’t try to soothe their fear because I’m not their parent.
I try to
the rabbi said, “I pray for the success of this mission and for the safety
of our troops.” He added that Jewish people aren’t looking at this as
Israel’s war. He said, “This is not Israel’s war. This America’s
a red sports blazer, civic leader Raphael Moreno weaved in and out of
children running towards an ice cream truck parked outside of Blessed
Sacrament Church on 35th Avenue in Jackson Heights.
president of the local police community council, said he has seen opposition
to war across the board in his area, but a split over residents’ major
said the Hispanic community is filled with long time residents and new
immigrants from various Latin American communities. “New immigrants are
worried about not having the right [immigration] status” and being
deported, Moreno said.
members of the community are concerned about going overseas, and he said,
“So many veterans around here are forgotten, disabled and can’t support
the sermons at Blessed Sacrament don’t discuss the war, Moreno said of
parishioners, “Most people oppose the war.” As he filed into the
church’s sixth service of the day, Moreno said, “It’s good to protect
your country . . . but nobody wants their children going to war.”
Scobee Diner in Douglaston, Jennifer Hall said she’s not worried at all
about a war. She said, “I have faith in God. I pray every night for the
safety of our troops. Whatever happens is going to happen, so there’s no
use in fighting it. We can only live with it and pray that nothing will
added, “You can’t be afraid of these people. That’s what they want.”
Scobee patron, Susan Rothchild, also said that she uses her faith to brave a
possible war. She said that she has spoken to her rabbi several times about
the war, and said, “He doesn’t really talk about it at services, but he
speaks to me at length and he has told me to keep my faith.”
a former Bayside resident who now lives in Nassau County, said she used her
faith to get through another traumatic experience, and said, “My cousin
worked in lower Manhattan, and for hours we didn’t know where she was on
Sept. 11. She ended up to be OK, but it was horrible to wait to hear from
her. So I went to my temple, and the people there helped me get through it.
I’ll never forget that.”
said she believes “madmen should be taken out of power,” but said with a
nervous laugh, “I don’t know if war is the answer. It seems to encourage
more madmen to dislike us.” She said, “It’s strange that religion sort
of fuels the terrorists to hate, but here, people use it to pray for peace.
I guess you can use religion for whatever you want.”
it isn’t discussed inside most houses of worship, the possible war with
Iraq has been a hot topic of conversation just about everywhere else, from
stores to restaurants to bars.
Gibney’s Pub on Broadway in Astoria, bartenders Mike and Noel said,
“Iraq is the whole conversation. They
come in talking about the weather and then they see the headlines and they
talk about Iraq and the war.”
who has been serving drinks for six years, broke down its political patrons
into two categories. He said, “The married guy with kids wants peace and
the negotiations to continue. The single guy with no kids wants Bush to get
off his ass and finish the job his father started.”
According to Mike, the ratio of those against to those in favor of a war is two to one.