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Day of prayer: quiet thanks for hostages

Fireworks, cheering crowds, and yellow ribbons gave way to a quieter celebration as Americans gathered and thanked God for the release of the 52 former captives of Iran.

Churches all over the country held special services Jan. 29, which President Reagan proclaimed as a day of national thanksgiving.

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About a dozen of the returning Americans and their families attended an interdenominational service at Washington's National Cathedral. During the moving thanksgiving service, a former hostage, Air Force col. Thomas E. Schaefer told the crowd of 2,000, "I could give this message in two brief words: "Thank God.'"

Colonel Schaefer, a former military attache at the US Embassy in Iran, spent part of his 14-month captivity in solitary confinement. He said, "I wonder whether I could have come through it without my God protecting me and giving me strength."

"We did have some bad moments," he told the audience. He said that sometimes the Americans "did not even have a Bible." But he found that "God was no farther than a prayer away, and many were the days when I got down on my knees and said, 'God, I need your help. I can't do it alone.'"

Former hostage Moorhead Kennedy read from the New Testament the story of St. Peter's escape from prison.

For the past month, many churches have been ringing bells daily in remembrance of the hostages in Iran. But as the service ended at the National Cathedral, a team of 10 bell ringers sounded a "full peal" designed to last 3 1/ 2 hours in joyful celebration of the hostages' release.

Although word of the hostage release came only last week, the National Cathedral had been planning its service of thanks for months and the choir had rehearsed a special hymn for many works.

Meanwhile, in front of the Capitol, the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington held an outdoor service of thanksgiving and reconciliation; and a week ago in Philadelphia, people of all faiths gathered in front of the Liberty Bell for an international service.

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