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Song and reflection at LI ‘inaugural vigil’ for social justice

Margaret Harvey, of Brentwood, sings

Margaret Harvey, of Brentwood, sings "God Bless America" during an "inaugural vigil" for immigrant and social justice in the parish hall of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Catholic Church in Wyandanch on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

About 40 people came together at a Wyandanch church Friday for an “inaugural vigil” in which they sang, recited poems, shared thoughts and, at times, reflected in silence.

The gathering in the parish hall of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Roman Catholic Church was a way for attendees to separate themselves from the swearing-in of President Donald Trump in the nation’s capital and from the aftertaste of the contentious election, participants said.

“A lot of people were feeling frustrated and perhaps frightened and concerned about social justice issues, such as immigration and health care and advocating for the poor,” said Sandy Thomas, of Wheatley Heights, the chairwoman of the Roundtable for the Common Good, the parish group that organized the vigil.

“We wanted to give people a sense of hope, and so that if we came together collectively — people of like minds who care about this country and care about our future — we thought that we would pray, celebrate, sing, and just put a good vibe out to the universe that we can change some of the things that we are afraid of,” she said.

The vigil started at noon — the time that U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath of office to Trump in a ceremony on the west front of the U.S. Capitol. The Wyandanch event was one of five such events scheduled at churches in Nassau and Suffolk counties, all set to begin at noon.

Guests from other congregations and community advocates were among those at the Wyandanch vigil. Nineteen people took turns sharing their thoughts and feelings. They sang “America, the Beautiful” and “God Bless America” to a banjo player’s accompaniment.

Most of the words of encouragement, reflections, readings and prayers that the participants shared revolved around drawing strength from faith and hope — and from one another — to seek positive changes in American society.

Sister Rosalie Carven, a Catholic nun from Brentwood, drew inspiration from Jesus’ story in her prayer, saying, “You crossed every border between divinity and humanity. . . . Give us the courage to open the door to our neighbors.”

Community advocates pledged a renewed commitment to keep fighting.

“We will continue to stand for justice . . . so that every person on Long Island is treated with as much dignity as the next,” said Anita Halasz, executive director of Long Island Jobs With Justice, the advocacy group that organized the vigils.

Others told of their personal struggles in accepting the results of the election, and its implications on issues important to them, such as the environment and women’s rights. They told of turning to prayer, to Scripture, to poetry or to the inaugural speech of the late President John F. Kennedy to draw strength.

Sister Joyce Hummel, a Catholic nun at Our Lady of Lourdes parish in West Islip, told the group that the reflection she had drawn from a recent homily came down to one question: “How do I react to the other?”

She encouraged action from that standpoint, saying, “So let us ask this in our parishes: how we’re coming together to work for justice.”

The Rev. William Brisotti, pastor of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, closed the vigil, saying that the overall message is “that we keep hope alive and that we recognize . . . the greatest thing that we have is to be human first, beyond citizens.”

The other vigils scheduled Friday were at St. Peter of Alcantara Roman Catholic Church in Port Washington, Wantagh Memorial Congregational Church in Wantagh, Setauket Presbyterian Church in Setauket, and St. Sylvester Roman Catholic Church in Medford.

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