Millennium prayers sweep in New Year


WASHINGTON (Jan. 2, 2000) -- In front of Washington's National Cathedral,

nearly 2,000 worshipers ushered in the new millennium late New Year's Eve

by waving flashlights above their heads and singing "this little light of

mine, I'm going to let it shine." Overhead, all the bells of the

cathedral's massive bell tower rang in the new year, ending an evening of

songs, poems and prayers.

What was supposed to have been one minute of silence before midnight gave

way to the thunder of fireworks displayed over Lincoln Mall a few miles

south of the cathedral, filling the sky with a stunning light show.

Shortly before midnight from the steps of the cathedral's entrance,

representatives of eight world religions prayed that God's peace and

justice would reign over the new millennium.

The New Year's Eve prayers were part of a 72-hour international vigil

coordinated by the San Francisco based United Religions Initiative. The

90-minute "Pilgrimage of Hope" vigil at National Cathedral offered prayers

and readings fromsacred writings followed the universal religious themes of

water, fire and light.

Before the vigil moved outside, ailing Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu of

Cape Town, South Africa, prayed, from a wheel chair, that God's dream of

peace and tolerance to all would "come forth in the new millennium." He

prayed, "O God, lead us into the bright light of this new generation."

Addressing the Concert of Hope audience earlier in the evening, Tutu said:

"We are formed by our yesterdays. A great deal of these yesterdays are

filled with pot holes on our landscape." He outlined "many ways we have

been cruel to each other," mentioning two world wars, the Holocaust,

racism, apartheid, and the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

He talked about children being used as prostitutes and children killing

children, referring directly to the "mindless violence of Columbine" High

School in Colorado, where two youths opened fire killing classmates and


Giving positive attributes to a "blood soaked" century, he talked about

"the freedom of democracy risen from ashes" in Eastern Europe and Latin

America. He gave thanks to God for the "defeat of apartheid (in his native

South Africa) and for forgiveness, reconciliation and happiness." He prayed

for peace in Northern Ireland.

On a lighter note, he reminded his listeners of the century's great people

in sports like Jesse Owens, Babe Ruth and Muhammad Ali and great moments

like men walking on the moon.

He spoke of a new generation in a new millennium and said, "they dream of a

different world, not obsessed with competition but with cooperation. . .

They hope in a new millennium where war will be no more, where we will beat

swords into plowshares."

At times he admonished his audience of religious people and asked them to

work together for peace and for a better more tolerant society. He said:

"In this family (of humanity), there are no outsiders -- black and white,

rich and poor, beautiful and not so beautiful -- ALL are welcomed." We must

be able to accept each other. If we did, we wouldn't spend these budgets on

warfare," referring to what governments spend on military.

With outreached arms of a pastor, he assured the packed cathedral in an

ending crescendo that "God believes in us. God gives up on none of us. God

calls us to be the church and gives us grace. The God who is the Alpha and

the Omega, the Beginning and the End, believes in us. If God is for us, no

one can be against us."

Visibly weak, two worship leaders helped Tutu from the podium following his

20-minute meditation.

After Tutu spoke, Washington's African Heritage Dancers and Drummers

flooded the sanctuary with hard rhythmic sounds of tribal drums and shells

hitting on wooden bowls performing an African harvest dance. The 60 dancers

and eight drummers were dressed in brightly colored yellow, red, green and

black African dress trimmed in shells. Faster and faster the drums beat and

dancers moved continually building in frenzied tempo that suddenly stopped

-- then silence -- then thunderous applause from an appreciative audience.

During the two-hour concert, all the choirs of the cathedral with the

Washington Symphonic Brass offered their audience a sampling of great

sacred music of the millennium from 12th century Hildegard von Bingen,

through Bach's "Dona Nobis Pacem" and Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" sung, with

the words "Joyful, joyful, we adore thee" by both choir and audience. The

concert also included contemporary sacred music by composers Larry King and

the cathedral's organist Douglas Major.

Music was interspersed among poems and writings by authors and poets from

Anglo-American, Chinese, Hispanic, African-American, Jewish, Islamic and

English cultures. Unique writings for the concert came from middle school

students who wrote about the new millennium, like the poem by Brittany

Clark. Samuel Sandifer, a 12-year-old narrator, read: "I count the days for

the bells to ring. I sing the words of darkness, moon light and stars. I

dance the beat prayers and poems that pass me by."

In a night of peaks and zeniths, the concert ended with standing ovations

following the singing of the Hallelujah chorus from Handel's Messiah. The

chorus punctuated the concert's theme of hope singing "hallelujah for the

Lord God omnipotent reigneth."

Between concert and prayer vigil, Leila F. Dane, a clinical psychologist of

McClean, Va. who works with trauma victims, commented that she was pleased

that "people were approaching it (the new millennium) with calm and from a

very centered place with a lot of family orientation."

About his New Year's Eve at the cathedral, Donald Vaughn, a retired

university professor and musician of Allentown, Pa., commented on the

beauty and solitude of the cathedral concert saying: "I think it is a

marvelous place to begin a new millennium."

Veronica McLaughlin, a lawyer of Arlington, Va., said she always spends New

Year's Eve at church. "It's a good way to enter a new year."

Posted Jan. 2, 2000

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