Stones For the Dead

As part of a growing nationwide trend of building memorials to the Iraq war, members of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax, Virginia gathered this Sunday to dedicate a cairn to casualties of the two-year-long conflict.

As with a number of the memorials, this one also had a political message. Many of the more than 300 members of the congregation, who piled rocks representing both civilian and military fatalities into a wooden frame on the church grounds, called for an end to the war.

"This is our way of breaking the silence about the Iraq war," said lay minister for social justice Esther Pank. "We believe that this war must end."

Rev. Richard Nugent, who led the ceremony, said he hoped the event would help foster public dialog about the consequences of the conflict.

"This is our humble way to understand the facts about this war and the increasingly heavy impact it has on our community, our nation, and our world," he said.

While congregation members placed stones on the cairn, they sang a song of unity and read quotes from Ecclesiastes and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Pank said each of the 300 or so stones represented about 100 dead; they will add stones as the death toll rises. The congregation also erected a sign next to the cairn displaying the number of dead, which will be updated each month. They used U.S. military statistics from the Defense Department (1,594 as of May 6) and Iraqi civilian casualty statistics from IraqBodyCount.org and Lancet, a British medical journal (24,000 to 98,000).

Iraq war memorials have been held in a number of U.S. cities, including Sacramento, Santa Monica, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Salt Lake City.

Pank said religious leaders should speak out against the war, and not keep quiet to appease those who may disagree with their stance.

"People of faith have a moral imperative to speak out about the issues of our day," said Pank. "When we see injustice or violence occurring then it is our call to do that."

At least three families who took part in the memorial had lost family members in Iraq.

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