LEWISTON — Multi-faith prayers and singing rang out in Kennedy Park on Monday evening as residents gathered for a community response to the three major fires in the city.

Lewiston Strong — Fire Response: Lewiston Unites drew individuals, families and groups of friends who mingled before an impromptu speaking area.

Fire vehicles formed the backdrop where police and fire personnel stood with leaders of the local faith community and political representatives.

“This is a sacred space we are creating,” Craig Saddlemire, Ward 5 city councilor and event organizer, said in his opening comments.

Saddlemire, a downtown resident of eight years, broke from his prepared notes and invited all in attendance to turn to the person standing next to them and offer greetings. He said the gathering was not about pointing blame, but to recognize a shared humanity and the pain felt by all.

The community gathering was a response to three major downtown fires that left about 200 people homeless. Four people have been charged with setting the fires.

Mayor Robert Macdonald recognized area first responders and the 22 surrounding towns that assisted in the three fires.

“Lewiston Fire Department is the best fire department in the state,” he said to scattered applause.

Macdonald also thanked the Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Department, United Ambulance and the State Fire Marshal’s Office for their help.

Macdonald invited representatives from local first responders to the microphone to be recognized. They made their way up front to loud applause from the crowd.

Taking the microphone again, Macdonald addressed those displaced by the fires, “We’ll be rooting for you all the way. Indeed, we are Lewiston Strong.”

Explaining the shyness of responders to take center stage, Lewiston fire Chief Paul LeClair said, “It’s part of the makeup of a first responder. They don’t expect praise.”

LeClair said that although his people are more concerned about residents’ safety than accolades, the show of support from the community was very much appreciated.

A representative from the local Muslim community, Abdiwah Aden, spoke to the crowd before delivering a prayer in Arabic. “On behalf of the Muslim community — thanks to all who helped citizens,” he said. After prayer, he said, “They are our sons, daughters, mothers, sisters.”

A chant was offered by women from Trinity Jubilee Center, the Auburn Unitarian Universalist Church and Calvary United Methodist Church, singing, “Open my Heart.”

As the women sang, people offered “cardboard reflections,” which are personal messages written on two sides. On one side is a message of pain suffered and on the other a message of hope.

“There’s something special when people sing together, especially in public,” Klara Tammany of Lewiston said. Tammany, one of the singers, is a member of Trinity Jubilee Center and director for the Center for Wisdom’s Women in Lewiston.

One woman held a sign that read, “People cried, hearts broke,” on one side and, “Arms opened, neighbors cared,” on the reverse. Arms did open as some in attendance embraced and shed tears.

Nasser Rohami of the Auburn Baha’i faith community began with some levity, asking, “Can you hear me?” Then he asked, “Can you understand my accent?”

Rohami told the crowd, “We belong to an organic unit, like a human body — one part suffers, the rest feels the consequences.”

Offering a prayer, Rohami said, “Today we feel the same for our brothers and sisters,” regardless of faith.

Bishop S. Clifton Ives, interim pastor at Calvary United Methodist Church in Lewiston, told the crowd before prayer, “Faithful people know, when one suffers, we all suffer together.”

Ending his prayer, Ives said, “We are many and we are one, in You, amen.”

Rabbi Hillel Katzir of Temple Shalom in Auburn noted the diverse crowd was essentially hearing the same prayer from different traditions. In his prayer, Katzir addressed the same creator by many names.

Katzir followed his prayer by reminding people, “We must not wait for a disaster to bring us together as a strong community.”

State Rep. Michael Lajoie of Lewiston said, “We are deeply saddened” by senseless acts of malice.”

Lajoie expressed his and other local leaders’ gratitude for the safety of those affected by the fires and the community who continues to support them, adding that Lewiston is in their thoughts and prayers.

Jennifer Gaylord of the local chapter of the American Red Cross said, “I’m excited to be here to start the healing process.”

Gaylord said victims who remain in the Androscoggin Bank Colisee shelter, about 28, will be housed in hotel rooms starting Tuesday morning.

“It’s been so tough with trying to find the housing,” Gaylord said. “The city is working so hard. I can’t say enough about what the city has done.”

Ashley Medina, a young mother of two who was left homeless by one of the fires, said she found herself in City Hall on May 5 trying to find housing assistance.

“(Tuesday), hopefully, I’ll get the keys” to a new apartment, Medina said while her 2-year-old son, Jacoby, played in the grass. Her daughter, 6-year-old Liahna, stood by Medina and her mother, Gloria, listening to the speakers.

Erin Reed, development director and volunteer coordinator at the Trinity Jubilee Center, said she used to live at 76 Pine St. She described a scene of fear and chaos the first night of the fires.

By the second fire, Reed said, she was “shaking” with fear and doubted all would escape.

Since then, she said, people have been taken care of and the center has provided food and interpreters. “We’re so impressed, so grateful,” Reed said, “Everybody’s exhausted but we work harder and we dig deeper.”

As people filtered out of the park or enjoyed refreshments brought by the Trinity Jubilee Center, the Nutrition Center and the Sun Journal, Saddlemire continued to greet and speak with residents.

“Everything fell into place,” Saddlemire said. He described the event as even more powerful than anticipated. “Next is having some difficult conversations,” Saddlemire said, about the elements that led to the fires.

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Video taken from Monday’s live streaming

Monday’s developments:

More coverage of the Lewiston fires:

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