Candlelight vigil in Costa Mesa offers prayers for people in civil war-ravaged Aleppo, Syria

Feeling hopeless about the people besieged by civil war in Aleppo, Syria, nearly 100 people gathered Wednesday night for a candlelight vigil at Fairview Community Church in Costa Mesa.

There was barely a dry eye as community leaders including Sarah Halverson-Cano, minister of Fairview; Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Greater Los Angeles Area chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations; Mirvette Judeh Maaytah, vice chair of the Arab American Civic Council and a board member of the Progressive Interfaith Alliance; and the Rev. Karen Stoyanoff of Unitarian Universalist Church in Anaheim spoke to the crowd and led prayers inside the chapel.

"At the end of the day, regardless of what faith background we might have … we are all one race — the human race," Ayloush said to the gathering of Muslims, Christians, Jews and other denominations.

Dania Alkhouli, co-founder of A Country Called Syria, performed an original poem about her Syrian heritage. Local musician Bassem Rashidi played a Middle Eastern flute and sang an emotional prayer for the people of Syria.

"It was very healing for the people that were there," said A.J. Blackwood, who chairs the board of the Progressive Interfaith Alliance, a faith-based community group that put on the event.

"[The emotion has] just been building. There are so many things going on right now in this country. I think there's a lack of hope going forward," Blackwood said, referring to the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump, who a year ago called for a temporary ban on the admission of Muslims from abroad and more recently on "immigration from countries with a history of exporting terrorism."

This week, social media has been flooded with graphic images of people trying to escape Aleppo as efforts to evacuate civilians and fighters opposed to President Bashar al-Assad's government fell apart amid more violence. Evacuation attempts started again Thursday, according to news reports.

Speakers and performers at the vigil Wednesday were intertwined with news videos highlighting the destruction in Aleppo.

"I feel that coming together in solidarity and community, something does change. I don't know if we can stop the killing, but I think something changes cosmically in our solidarity together," Halverson-Cano said in an interview.

Following the speeches and prayers, the group stood with candles and signs at Fairview Road and Fair Drive.

People at the vigil came from various backgrounds — some were Syrian, some had friends or family members who are Syrian and others attended because they felt for the Syrian people.

"I was there to help be a voice for those who don't have a voice right now — for those who are in pain and those who are suffering," said Danard Thomas, 26, of Anaheim.

"Rami Anabtawi, 32, of Dana Point said such a gathering gives people the power to be more compassionate and perhaps prevent future tragedies.

"Any meeting of people can do that," Anabtawi said.

To raise more awareness about the recent events, the Syrian American Council and other community groups plan a demonstration for 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa.

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