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Praying with one voice; National Day of Prayer draws 500 to Niagara Square to sing and listen to speakers call for 'healing in the land'

About 500 people gathered Thursday afternoon under the warm sun in Niagara Square for a local observance of the National Day of Prayer.

The 75-minute noontime service was organized by the Western New York National Day of Prayer Task Force, which consists of Christian churches and organizations from the region.

The crowd, singing songs while some waved American flags, listened to various speakers sound messages of unity and encourage those in attendance to join together for needed "healing in the land."

"Our main objective is that we come together in the spirit of oneness," Kathy Bowman, of Buffalo's Antioch Holiness Church on Michigan Avenue, told the crowd.

Bowman, who is also the task force chairwoman, read a letter written by President Obama about the day's designation near the start of the service.

This is the 61st annual national event, which happens on the first Thursday of May. The crowd of hundreds, hands and voices raised, jammed the western side of the square, the portion closest to City Hall. In terms of numbers, attendance was roughly double even on the best days of the Occupy Buffalo encampment, which set up shop in Niagara Square from Oct. 8 to Feb. 3.

Pat Fowler, of the Salvation Army and task force secretary, said planning for the event began in October.

Churches from across the area, from Niagara Falls to Orchard Park, participated, she said.

"It is a time for all faiths to pray," Fowler said.

Jose Robles, pastor of His Dwelling Place on Massachusetts Avenue, said he came because of what he called the "awesome opportunity to express who we are."

A crew of 10 from the Buffalo City Mission set up about 450 chairs for the event, with many in the crowd finding shade under trees, and the spillover standing in the back of the gathering.

James Giles, of Greater Works Deliverance Fellowship on William Street, said he believes the area needs God's intervention and that prayer can help change stagnant conditions.