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Marines Hold Easter Services in Fallujah

April 11, 2004

FALLUJAH, Iraq (AP) _ U.S. Marines sat on folded cardboard boxes in the middle of a vast soft drink factory in the troubled city of Fallujah on Sunday to listen to an Easter service, their weapons and flak jackets by their sides.

Navy Chaplain Wayne Hall, 36, from Oklahoma City, set up a makeshift table as an altar and started the non-denominational service by singing ``Amazing Grace.″ The troops, members of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, joined in.

Hall said he just finished two sermons amid the sounds of gunfire near where hundreds of Iraqi insurgents are holed up in Fallujah. The Sunni city has seen heavy fighting since Marines began a siege against it a week ago.

Sunni insurgents and the Marines agreed to a cease-fire that started early Sunday and will last until the evening amid talks between Iraqi officials on how to end the violence, but there has been sporadic shooting.

Hall read two passages from the Bible, from Isaiah 53 and Luke 24, concerning the death and resurrection of Christ.

In his sermon, the chaplain referred to the battles the Marines have fought in Fallujah.

``We’re never promised that we’ll have an easy ride. God just tells us that he’ll be with us along the way,″ he said. ``We are not afraid of death because Christ will give us eternal life.

``We ask you, oh Lord ... that your spirit move through this action ... and that peace will come.″

At the end of the service, he prayed for those killed and wounded, asking God to ``send your spirit to their families″ as tears trailed down his face.

More than 600 Iraqis have been killed in the fighting in Fallujah since Monday, the head of the city’s hospital said Sunday. Five Marines have been killed and at least 20 others have been wounded.

Soldiers lined up to the altar to take communion and were given a wafer dipped in red grape juice.

``This recharges our batteries,″ Warrant Officer Todd Mathisen, of Reno, Nev., said after the ceremony.

At Camp Fallujah, the Marine’s command center east of the city, Chaplain John Gwudz, 58, of Norwich, Conn., led an Easter Mass for about 100 Marines in a theater once part of a Saddam Hussein palace complex.

Gwudz, wearing a camouflage vestment and desert combat boots beneath his white robe, encouraged the troops, telling them that in the difficulties of war one can gain a deeper appreciation for what God has given.

``We can’t be with our families today, but we are family, together,″ he said.

He moved through the aisle, sprinkling water as a blessing onto the crowd of Marines wearing flak vests and carrying M-16 rifles.

Coptic Christians from Fallujah donated a large candle for the service, Gwudz said.

Some in the congregation talked of hope and prayers that city officials and the U.S. military could reach an agreement on reducing the violence in Fallujah.

``It’s a step toward hope, a step toward a solution,″ Gwudz said of the talks.

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