Feb. 3, 2004 – Beneath the ornate arches of Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Charlotte Amalie, abused and neglected children and their many friends gathered for an ecumenical healing service on Monday evening. Representatives of different faith communities on St. Thomas offered prayers on behalf of children who had been beaten, raped and murdered over the last 20 years.
The 2nd annual ecumenical healing service was sponsored by advocates at KidsCope, the Child Watch program of the Lieutenant Governor's Office, and TV2 News. The cathedral seats were filled with children and teens who got there by way of a march against child abuse from Emancipation Garden.
KidsCope director Dilsa Capdeville explained earlier that the idea for the march came from the student volunteers who helped organize the church service.
"Christians and Muslims and the Jewish community will pull together for our children, because in every denomination we have children," Capdeville said during the service.
Many of the young people present Monday night were there because they themselves had been abused or because they are friends with other children who have been.
Alexandra Chinnery, 12, a student at the Addelita Cancryn Junior High School, said it saddened her to know that children as young as 2 months were suffering from abuse. "The children that are being abused, I know some of them, and some of my family members have been abused," she said. "It really hurts my heart," she said.
The mother of another pre-teen, singer Janeen Martin, stood at the back of the cathedral and watched as dozens of children mounted the altar steps to receive a blessing from the ministers who gently cradled the young faces in their hands and murmured words of solace.
"I wanted to come tonight because my daughter, Janeen was singing," Marie Martin said. "But every year we try to support the efforts that Dilsa and her group are trying to do in terms of promoting the end of child abuse in the community. I think it's a very serious situation, and I think we need to pay more attention to it, even in a spiritual sense."
KidsCope first organized a prayer service three years ago in honor of two small children who had been beaten to death at the hands of caregivers. As subsequent events took shape, Capdeville later related, the event began to draw support from child abuse survivers and those who had lost loved ones to violence on the street. This year, Jim and Cecelia Carroll, the parents of Jason Carroll, a youth who was fatally shot four years ago on Main Street, came to the service in memory of their son.
Pastor Toy Barbel delivered the pastoral message Monday evening. She evoked the image of battered children as broken dolls and implored the congregation to take up the chant of "no more broken dolls."
Legendary saxophonist Alwyn "Lad" Richards sat in a front row pew to the side of the altar and raised the bell of his musical instrument toward the ceiling, adding a musical strain as Pastor George Franklin raised a chorus to the song "Kumbaya" as he performed a healing ceremony.
"A child is crying, Lord … a child is hurting, Lord… a child is aching, Lord … a child is dying … Lord, it's my child, Lord … Kumbaya," he sang. One young girl shot up from her seat and ran from the sanctuary. She came back a few minutes later and sat down. An adult working with the Sparks youth group sat down beside her and put an arm around the girls' shoulders.
Outside, other young people sat on the cathedral steps, faces buried in their hands. Capdeville's daughter Chanell Rohan said she was there in support of her mother and the work she does in the community. She said after seeing some of the people who come to KidsCope for help, she felt the need to lend her presence to help raise awareness about the effects of child abuse on the community.
On Tuesday, Capdeville expressed gratitude for the support she gets from her family, saying that for all of their lives her children have been steeped in her experiences as an advocate for children. "Because they're my children, they're kind of involved and they help me put on functions like that," she said.
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