CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Interfaith leaders and community members alike gathered together in prayer and a collective call for peace for the people of Gaza in downtown Charleston on Good Friday.

Leaders and congregations from various churches and religions– from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu among other faiths and beliefs– came together before the sculpture depicting the crucifixion of Jesus Christ that sits at the corner of Leon Sullivan Way and Virginia Street Friday morning.

The group is calling for others to step forward.
(Photo/Katherine Skeldon/MetroNews)

There, they joined in prayer for Gaza as Israel’s’ war against Hamas rages on and as devastation continues.

Beyond the series of prayer for the Palestinian city, the gathering also aimed to call for an immediate cease-fire, as well as an urge to bring more humanitarian aid, and ultimately peace to the region as the Easter holiday approaches.

An organizer of Friday’s event, Pastor Darick Biondi, a pastor at Cross of Grace Lutheran Church in Putnam County, told MetroNews that advocates in Charleston and throughout the Kanawha Valley have been holding rallies, vigils, and teach-ins to adamantly stand against the injustices which have been occurring on the ground in Gaza since the initial Hamas attack that erupted on October 7, 2023.

“The attacks on October 7 were clearly unjust, horrible, atrocious acts, we still have hostages to pray for, but the response has just been so over-the-top, its been so disproportionate, that we feel like we need to cry out, especially since it’s our own aid, our own weapons that are causing this death,” Biondi said.

The health ministry in Gaza reported a civilian death toll now surpassing 30,000 people.

The United Nations court on Thursday ordered Israel to take measures in strengthening the humanitarian situation in Gaza, including more passage to allow food, water, fuel, among other supplies, as famine looms over the war-ravaged strip.

Those speaking and leading in prayers in Charleston on Friday not only included Biondi, but Reverend Jim Lewis, minister emeritus of St. Johns Episcopal Church; Pastor Dawn Adamy of Bream Memorial Presbyterian Church; Ibetsam Sue Barazi, Vice President of the Islamic Association of West Virginia; Sister Mary Irene Sorber with the West Virginia Institute of Spirituality; Archana Narasimhan, a leader of Hindu faith; and, Kenny Matthews, the West Virginia Justice Associate for American Friends Service Committee.

“Since when is hunger being used as a weapon,” Barazi pleading to understand during a passionate speech she gave at Friday’s event. “The Israel government is purposefully starving people.”

Kenny Matthews told MetroNews that coming together with all of the different faiths Friday was a display of the humanity behind the issue.

He said it’s not just a Christian issue, it’s not just a Jewish issue, nor is it an Islamic issue, he said it’s a humanitarian issue.

“Men, women, and children who don’t have the ability to protect themselves are being slaughtered, and it needs to stop, we need to put forth some definitive real steps to make sure this stops happening,” Matthews said.

He said it’s important to make clear of the inalienable right for human beings to exist, no matter what faith, religion, race, or background.

Earlier this year advocates took their efforts of calling for a cease-fire in Gaza to Charleston City Council meetings and proposed a resolution regarding the matter be made in the city.

While the council voted against the cease-fire resolution, Matthews said that doesn’t put an end to what the advocates here feel is their duty to step up and speak out in order to try and help the people of Gaza.

He said the people are not powerless to make the change they want to see happen, as we the people elect the officials into government who can serve as our voice in making that change.

“We see it every election cycle, people get voted in because we expect them to make certain changes and do certain things,” Matthews said. “We have power, we need to quit saying that we are powerless, we’re living in one of the most free nations in the world.”

Leading a prayer Friday, Sister Mary Irene Sorber said the event was about looking past the beliefs that may divide people, and coming together for one purpose– to advocate for human life.

“We want to show that all of our faith religions are for one purpose–love, and peace, and serving one another and helping one another, and not creating atmosphere for war or disagreement even among ourselves,” Sorber said.

The event not only took place on Good Friday, but it followed the Jewish tradition, Purim, the weekend prior, and marked the beginning of the last ten nights of the Islamic tradition, Ramadan and the Night of Power.