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Fund to soothe wounds of hate

By UWE SIEMON-NETTO, UPI Religion Correspondent

WASHINGTON, Dec. 24 (UPI) -- A Sikh temple in Palermo, N.Y., and an Episcopal church in Hanna City, Ill., will receive cash gifts from a unique Boston fund this Christmas, its manager told United Press International on Monday.

The Boston Piano Religious Trust gives $500 grants to houses of worship damaged or destroyed in hate crimes.

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One is the Gobind Sadan USA Sikh sanctuary that was burned down by youthful self-appointed "avengers" of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"We learned about this from UPI reports," said John Heagney, who runs the trust that has already handed out nearly 100 grants since its foundation in the wake of a spate of attacks on black churches in the South in 1995.

Another recipient is Christ Episcopal Limestone Church in Hanna City, Ill., which lost a valuable stained glass window in an anti-religious hate attack Dec. 7.

"We have been busy this year," recalled Heagney, speaking for the Boston Piano Company, a subsidiary of Steinway Musical Properties. "In 2001, we gave grants to 27 religious congregations."

Of those, two had been attacked in the aftermath of Sept. 11, and neither had any links to Islam, radical or otherwise.

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The Gobind Sadan sanctuary in central New York State was a retreat run by Sikhs, whose monotheistic religion is of Indian origin and teaches that all other faiths are good and true.

Another house of worship severely damaged after the terrorist strikes against New York and Washington was St. John's Assyrian American Church in Chicago.

This crime was all the more ironic as Assyrian Christians, who speak an Aramaic dialect closely related to the language spoken by Jesus, have been at times persecuted by Muslim extremists throught the centuries.

Chicago is home to the world's largest cluster of Assyrian expatriates who have fled from Saddam Hussein's tyranny.

According to Heagney, the recipients of the Trust's grants are a curious mix of congregations targeted by an equally curious mix of vandals. There were of course at first the black churches burned down by white extremists. "This prompted Bob Dove, the Boston Piano Company's executive vice president, to establish this fund," Heagney said.

But then there was a predominantly white church set ablaze by a black arsonist. There was the 170-year old St. Matthias Lutheran Church in Carlisle, Pa., that has suffered two attacks thus far.

There were synagogues and a Vietnamese Buddhist Temple. And there was the Word of Life Ministries sanctuary in Ontario, Cal., attacked by an arsonist dressed in black, wearing combat boots and carrying a copy of the Satanic Bible on him.

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This crime brought about an instant disclaimer from "Magistrate" Peggy Nadrima, a spokeswoman for the Church of Satan.

"She most emphatically condemned vandalism and told us this crime should be severely punished," Heagney related.

However, this was by no means an isolated incident of Satanism. "For example, we also gave $500 told the Greensburg, Ala., Alliance Church to remove swastikas, pentagrams and the words 'Death to Jesus' from its walls," said Heagney.

Pentagrams are symbols of Satanism and the occult.

Heagney added, "Musical instrument makers owe so much to religious congregations that we felt it was time to give something in return."

Of course, rarely is $500 enough to repair the damage caused by spiteful criminals, he allowed. But, wrote Rabbi Neal Scheinlin of Temple Beth-El in Reno, Nev., after the receipt of such an award: "This will help to relieve our physical pain and our psychological wounds."

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