Sept 11 family group asks Bush to aid Afghan victims

NEW YORK (UMNS) – Family members of victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have launched a new organization and dispatched a Valentine’s Day message to President Bush asking for help in establishing a fund for innocent Afghan victims of the U.S. bombing campaign.

Founding members of September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows explained their goals during a Feb. 14 press conference at the Church Center for the United Nations in New York. The American Friends Service Committee
was a co-sponsor of the event.

David Potorti of Cary, N.C., whose brother died at the World Trade Center, said one of the group’s main purposes is to open a nationwide dialogue on how to respond to the terrorist threat. “We are all seeking effective alternatives to war,” he noted. “We do not want the war in Afghanistan or wherever it might spread to be conducted in our names or the names of our loved ones.”

Phyllis Rodriguez of White Plains, N.Y., acknowledged the loss and pain that followed the death of her 31-year-old son, Greg, in the trade center bombing. Despite that pain, she and her husband, Orlando, soon posted a letter on the Internet, calling for restorative justice instead of violence.

David Wildman, a United Methodist Board of Global Ministries executive who attended the press conference, pointed out that the call for restorative justice also could be found in the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church. Those principles state that restorative justice “seeks to hold the offender accountable to the victimized person and to the disrupted community. Through God’s transforming power, restorative justice seeks to repair the damage, right the wrong and bring healing to all involved, including the victim, the offender, the families and the community.”

A delegation of family members recently returned from a trip to Afghanistan, where they met families who had lost loved ones because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time during when the U.S. bombs fell. Kelly Campbell of Oakland, Calif., who participated in the delegation, said Peaceful Tomorrows wants the U.S. government to conduct a study of civilian casualties in Afghanistan and then provide compensation for affected families.

“We would like to extend the spirit of compassion and understanding to those families of Afghanistan,” the organization wrote to President Bush. “We believe that this is an important way that we can illustrate to the people of Afghanistan and the people of the world that Americans are a caring and generous people. We are eager to help in the fight against terrorism by promoting this spirit of compassion and understanding.”

A number of organizations, including the United Methodist Committee on Relief and Church World Service, already are working to assist those in need in Afghanistan.

Peaceful Tomorrows is inviting other family members and friends of Sept. 11 victims, as well as general supporters, to join the call for dialogue on how to address terrorism.

“We have a voice that can break through the barriers on what the response should be,” said Ryan Amundson of Hartville, Mo., who serves as the organization’s Midwest coordinator. His brother Craig died in the Pentagon attack.

Wildman noted that the appeal by Peaceful Tomorrows for dialogue is the element that has been missing from discussions about the response to the terrorist attacks. Such dialogue can begin at the local church level, he said.

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