Thousands of American churches will ring their bells next weekend to mark a mournful milestone. The Pentagon announced June 15 that the 2,500th U.S. military volunteer had died in Iraq.

“This is a tragedy that shouldn’t have happened,” said Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches.

Faithful America, an electronic advocacy program of the NCC, is co-sponsoring next weekend’s “Ring in Remembrance” with DemocracyRising.US, a national peace project seeking to end the occupation of Iraq founded by consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader.

“These young men and women who paid the ultimate price of their government’s call to arms will be mourned by everyone. And across America, tens of thousands–mothers, fathers, spouses, siblings, children and friends–bear a burden of grief we can scarcely imagine,” said Edgar, the keynote speaker at the Baptist Center for Ethics 15th anniversary luncheon scheduled Thursday in Atlanta.

Officials said more than 2,500 churches, synagogues, mosques and peace organizations are expected to participate in the nationwide interfaith initiative.

“The bell-ringing effort will show that people of all faiths are standing together in solidarity to remember the profound loss of lives to our nation and the world and will usher in a season of peace,” said said Vince Isner, director of

Congregations will ring bells, light candles, gather in silence or engage in other sacred gestures to remember soldiers, their families and the thousands of innocent civilians who have died in the Iraq war. People of faith will also urge U.S. and international leaders to consider alternatives to the open-ended occupation of Iraq.

Communities of faith will begin lighting candles Friday and will culminate the effort with bell ringing on Sunday. A national event will be held Sunday in Washington.

The National Council of Churches, an ecumenical group composed of 35 Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, historic African American and peace communions representing 45 million Christians in 100,000 local congregations in the United States, is also sponsoring an online petition calling for the close of the U.S. prison facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The suicides of three prisoners at Guantanamo prompted a renewed call by the National Council of Churches that the facility be shut down.

Edgar called the suicides “another milestone in a sordid history of human rights denial and crimes against humanity.”

“Americans who love their country and its historic ideals are mortified by this continuing blot on our honor, on our steadfast defense of freedom, and on our commitment to democracy and the rule of law,” Edgar said.

Bob Allen is managing editor of

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