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Give 'candles and prayer' a chance

A commentary reprinted from

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Rumors of war with Iraq abound. Words like "inevitable," "necessary," "urgent" are part of the proponents' vocabulary. They cite Iraqi president Saddam Hussein as a threat because of his past use of chemical and biological weapons, and the belief that he is bent on developing nuclear weapons that he will use on Israel and other US allies.

Though there is considerable opposition to this war, both in America and abroad, the rhetoric of war increases daily.

But even if the threat is valid, is war the only and inevitable option? Recent history shows that means other than war have proved effective even in the most intractable situations.

Prayer has been one of them.

A classic case is found in detailed accounts of the end of the cold war, which began in late 1989. The political and military tension between the United States and the former Soviet Union seemed permanent, prompting the accelerating buildup of huge arsenals of nuclear weapons with potential to destroy the planet. The demarcation of that opposition was symbolized by the Berlin Wall.

And yet, on the night of October 9, in the streets around Leipzig's St. Nicholas Lutheran church, over 70,000 German citizens gathered to demand freedom and democracy.

The demonstrations had started earlier as regular Monday night peace-prayer vigils across the city. That particular October night, 2,000 people were inside the church hearing and quietly meditating on sermons based on Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, and other peacemaking ideas. It is reported that about 600 of those inside the church were members of the Stasi, the East German secret police, and their mission was to disrupt the services. They didn't. They didn't even try.

As those 2,000 left the church, they were welcomed by the thousands waiting outside with candles in their hands. One report about the incident summed up the power of the moment thus: "Two hands are necessary to carry a candle and to protect it from extinguishing so that you cannot carry stones or clubs at the same time. The miracle occurred.

"Jesus' spirit of non-violence seized the masses and became a material, peaceful power."


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