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Siena student faith groups band together in prayer for quake victims

Siena College students hold a prayer service for earthquake victims in Turkey and Syria
Lucas Willard
Siena College students hold a prayer service for earthquake victims in Turkey and Syria

Leaders of student faith groups came together on the Siena College campus Wednesday to hold a prayer service for the victims of the devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria.

Inside the St. Mary of the Angels Chapel on the Siena College campus, a prayer service honored victims and survivors of the quakes and their aftershocks that have killed more than 55,000 people since February.

Wearing a black headscarf beside a cross draped in violet for the Lenten season, Aaminah Afzal, president of Siena’s Muslim Student Association, spoke to those seated in the pews.

“Although it is a major crisis that has brought together in this moment, today's prayer service also represents something very special…”

Students from each of the three Abrahamic faiths spoke during the service.

In the weeks since the quakes on the other side of the world, the Siena community has been collecting physical and monetary donations for the Franciscan Relief Fund.

Afzal, a third-year student, said the service was the first time she knows of that student religious groups have banded together in prayer on the private campus.

“I think it's very important that we understand that, you know, coming together is a very big bold move, versus just talking about it,” said Afzal.

Freshman Michael Schneider, who represented his Jewish classmates during the ceremony, agreed.

“Three people representing three different faiths standing together all behind one issue is a really powerful statement,” said Schneider.

Siena sophomore Carter Gooley, a co-leader of Siena Campus Ministry, believes the social media era has helped rally the student body around causes, including the recent quakes in the Middle East. Gooley said he creates social media content through an internship.

“So, I think social media really helps, you know, build that connection and framework, coming togetherness, and, you know, doing different things with other people and sharing different opinions and different takes on certain things,” said Gooley.

All three students dealt with the disruptions of COVID-19 during their high school years. Afzal says that’s helped create a sense of community among the current student body.

“We did struggle, we lost lives, we all hurt, and we all had damage from COVID and other calamities. But I think that's what keeps us together and reminds us that we need to be stronger and we are stronger united,” said Afzal.

Schneider said the students are already thinking of other ways to come together.

“There are no other events planned. However, we are definitely looking forward to cooperating in the future,” said Schneider.

Gooley says the next gathering doesn’t need to be limited to prayer services in the wake of tragedy.

“When you think of prayer services, it's in times of need, but we really want to expand that and not just do things in times of need but also to expand that and do little things together. Maybe get togethers or, you know, just having dinner one night or, you know, getting snacks and you know, watching a movie as, like, clubs together. So not only just for what it is today, but what it is to come for these for our groups here today and what is represents,” said Gooley.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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