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Sikh leaders join Bush in Prayer for Katrina Victims

From Left to right: Tim Geoglein, Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Liaison, Dr. Rajwant Singh, Sukhdev Singh Darhele, Surinder Raheja, Harjot Singh, Himani Raheja, Sartaj Singh Dhami, Karen Hughes, Close Advisor and confidant of President Bush, Manjit Singh Bedi, Bhai Kuldeep Singh, Jathedar Darshan Singh, Rajinder Pal Singh, Bhai Jagmohan Singh, Amrit Kaur, Inderpal Singh and Sirmukh SIngh Manku at the Washington National Cathedral.

President Bush speaking at the National Cathedral.

Dr. Rajwant Singh talking to Bishop T.D. Jakes and interviewing him for the Sikh TV program.

Sikhs were seated behind Bush, Cheney, and the cabinet. Left to right Dr. Rajwant Singh, Amrit Kaur, Prof. Darshan Singh, and Bhai Kuldeep Singh.

Washington, September 19, 2005 - Led by Former Jathedar of Akal Takhat Prof. Darshan Singh, Sikh leaders from all over the Washington area joined President Bush in prayer along with a score of other religious and political leaders at the Washington National Cathedral in the National day of prayer and remembrance service for victims of Hurricane Katrina on Friday. Dr. Rajwant Singh, Chairman of Sikh Council on Religion and Education (SCORE), Former Jathedar of Akal Takhat, Singh Sahib Darshan Singh, Amrit Kaur, Secretary of Guru Gobind Singh Foundation, Gyani Kuldeep Singh, Granthi of Sikh Foundation of Virginia, and Bhai Jagmohan Singh of Guru Nanak Foundation of American have seated two rows behind Bush and his cabinet. An hour-long service was arranged to draw attention to the plight of those who have suffered in this greatest natural disaster facing the nation

President Bush pledged to wipe out "the legacy of inequality" during reconstruction in the hurricane-ravage region. Bush had declared Friday a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance for the victims of Katrina, and churches throughout the country rang bells at noon.

"As we clear away the debris of a hurricane, let us also clear away the legacy of inequality," Bush said during a national prayer service at the National Cathedral in Washington.

Americans of every race and religion were touched by the storm,"yet some of the greatest hardship fell upon citizens already facing lives of struggle -- the elderly, the vulnerable, and the poor," he said.

The destruction of this hurricane was "beyond any human power to control," but the restoration of broken communities and disrupted lives now "rests in our hands," he said.

In the audience were First Lady Laura Bush; Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne; Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld; Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales; and members of the Supreme Court and Congress. Also on hand were first responders, members of the Salvation Army, and several dozen survivors of the hurricane, who sat in the front rows.

After the service, Singh Sahib Darshan Singh along with all the 19 Sikhs who had attended the service, met with some of the victims from New Orleans who are stationed in the D.C. Armory in Washington but were brought to this service. Darshan Singh said that “I offer prayers for all the faith communities who have been affected by this tragedy. Especially the Sikhs of New Orleans need our prayers and support. Let us all help each other.”

Dr. Rajwant Singh, who was asked by the White House to invite Sikh representatives to the event, said, “It was important to be part of this national ceremony and express our deep-felt sentiments to the victims of this disaster. It has provided us an opportunity to bring the feeling of togetherness.” He added, “It is also heartening to see that many Sikh organizations and individuals have done a marvelous job of providing relief to so many. They have truly implemented the concept of sewa. But we all still need to do more.”

The White House officials welcomed the Sikhs and met with Prof. Darshan Singh and others and thanked them for attending the service.

Sartaj Singh Dhami and Harjot Singh, both met with the relief officials in Washington who were in attendance and pledged to organize the Sikh youth volunteers to assist at the DC Armory. SCORE’s Outreach official, Sartaj Singh said, “In the aftermath of America’s worst natural disaster, the National Day of Prayer brought much-needed reflection and healing to our Nation. But along with these spiritual sentiments, a deeper bond of unity and compassion was realized that lies at the foundation of America. If anything, the Nation was rejuvenated with the near term commitment of aiding the victims of Hurricane Katrina, as well as recognizing the strength of land made up of diverse faiths based on assistance to all those in need.”

Many gurdwaras across the nation including the Washington area have donated thousands of dollars to relief organizations. The Gurdwara of New Orleans was also submerged in the water and all of the 35 families of New Orleans had moved to Baton Rouge or had gone to their relatives in other parts of the country. Sikhs of Baton Rouge and United Sikhs have served many meals to the victims.

Before Bush addressed the day of prayer service at Washington National Cathedral, Bishop T.D. Jakes, head of 30, 000-member Potter’s House Church in Dallas, TX, delivered a sermon calling on Americans to no longer ignore the plight of the poor.

He urged the power-packed audience to use the devastation of Katrina to ease poverty and discrimination. Noting the destruction of the Twin Span Bridge between New Orleans and Slidell, Jakes said, "While building bridges and cities, let's build unity." He added, "It is not so important what we say. It is important what we do. It costs money to help people. And sometimes we have to love them enough to pay the bill."

Civil Rights Attorney Dave Singh Sidhu while speaking of his impression of the service, said, “The national prayer service had tremendous symbolic importance for at least two reasons. First, the leaders of this country came together, united in a bipartisan and apolitical manner, to remember those lost and to offer moral support for those recovering. Second, members of the Sikh community stood side by side with these leaders and with other concerned citizens in this collective remembrance; there should be no doubt that Sikhs also pray for the victims and recognize the severity of this ongoing national crisis and unfortunate human tragedy.”

In his prime-time speech to the nation Thursday night from New Orleans, Louisiana, Bush said the recovery effort would be one of the largest reconstruction projects the world has ever seen and promised that the federal government would cover "the great majority of the costs" of rebuilding Katrina-ravaged cities along the Gulf Coast region.

"One day, Americans will look back at the response to Hurricane Katrina and say that our country grew not only in prosperity but in character and justice," he said.

"There is no way to imagine America without New Orleans, and this great city will rise again," he said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), who in the early days of the crisis had called for FEMA director Michael Brown's resignation, issued a statement of prayer Friday. "The waters and winds of destruction came down on our fellow citizens on the Gulf Coast," she said. "Now it is our divine charge to bring down the waters of justice; justice in providing for, supporting, rebuilding, and serving those who suffer."

Nearly 800 people were confirmed killed by the hurricane, which pounded southern US states of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama on Aug. 29, forcing about 1 million people to evacuate and leaving many others stranded in New Orleans.

Some other Sikhs who attended were: Dr. Jaswinder Singh Sidhu and his wife, Guddi Sidhu, Dawinder Sidhu, Inderpal Singh, Sirmukh Singh Manku, Bhai Rajinder Pal Singh, Manjit Singh Bedi, Sukhdev Singh Darhele, Surinder Singh Raheja and his wife, Himani Kaur Reheja, and Dr. Harpal Singh Mangat.

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