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Four PC(USA) clergy represent the denomination at an interfaith service for seven World Central Kitchen aid workers killed in Gaza

Thursday’s service at the Washington National Cathedral features a moving eulogy by Chef José Andrés and music by cellist Yo-Yo Ma

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The seven World Central Kitchen aid workers killed on April 1 were, from top left,  Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha, Laizawmi “Zomi” Frankcom, Damian Soból, Jacob Flinkinger, John Chapman, James “Jim” Henderson and James Kirby. (Photo courtesy of World Central Kitchen)

LOUISVILLE — Four Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) pastors were among those invited to the Washington National Cathedral for a moving service remembering the seven World Central Kitchen workers killed on April 1 by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza.

The interfaith service included a eulogy by Chef José Andrés, WCK’s founder and chief feeding officer, and a cello tribute by Yo-Yo Ma. Watch the two-hour service, courtesy of the Washington National Cathedral, here.

The memorial service honored Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha of Palestine; John Chapman of the United Kingdom; Jacob Flickinger of the United States and Canada; Lalzawmi “Zomi” Frankcom of Australia; James Henderson of the U.K.; James Kirby of the U.K.; and Damian Soból of Poland.

World Central Kitchen is a humanitarian nonprofit Andrés founded in 2010 to provide food relief in response to humanitarian, climate and community crises. The organization has provided more than 350 million meals worldwide, including more than 43 million meals in Gaza.

Presbyterian clergy invited to represent the denomination at the service were the Rev. John Molina-Moore, General Presbyter of National Capital Presbytery; the Rev. Jo Nygard Owens, Pastor for Digital Ministry at Washington National Cathedral; author and speaker the Rev. MaryAnn McKibben Dana; and the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, the PC(USA)’s Advocacy Director.

Presbyterian clergy attending Thursday’s interfaith service at the Washington National Cathedral were, from left, the Rev. John Molina-Moore, the Rev. Jo Nygard Owens, the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins and the Rev. MaryAnn McKibben Dana. (Photo courtesy of the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins)

Faith leaders participating in the service included Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, Cardinal Wilton Gregory of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, Rabbi Susan N. Shankman of Washington Hebrew Congregation, and Imam Talib M. Shareef of Masjid Muhammad, The Nation’s Mosque.

The Very Rev. Randy Hollerith, Dean of the Cathedral, said, “We are honored to open the doors of this Cathedral so the world can come together to honor the sacrifice of these seven brave souls and pray for an end to the war that took their lives.”

Andrés honored each of the fallen colleagues. “They were the best of humanity,” he said. “Their example should inspire us to do better — to be better.”

He called Abutaha “an integral member of the team, as a driver and translator in his native Gaza.”

“He was very close to his family, texting them constantly, especially his beloved mother,” Andrés said. “He was driving home to see her, texting to see if she was asleep, when our convoy was attacked.”

Chapman “was a beloved husband, father of three, son and brother” who “was brave, selfless and strong — as you might expect of a former Royal Marine commando,” Andrés said. “He had a great sense of humor and a great love of adventure. He was an inspiration for all around him. He made those next to him feel loved and protected.”

Andrés called Flickinger “a leader, a problem-solver and a moral beacon — exactly what you need in the chaos of a disaster zone or war zone. He was tough, fit, disciplined, and smart, but his kindness shone through.”

“He took special care to feed the children and made them feel loved and safe,” Andrés said. “The kids called him Tio Jacob.”

Chef José Andrés (Photo courtesy of World Central Kitchen)

Andrés began to cry when talking about Frankcom, “our beloved Zomi,” who was “at the very heart of World Central Kitchen.”

“She gave joy to others, even more than she gave food — dancing, singing, playing with children — as well as her teammates. Her compassion and curiosity were infectious. She was like a sister to me and so many of us. She traveled the world, savoring its flavors, treasuring its people, nourishing the souls of everyone she helped — and she helped so many people.”

Henderson was “a family man and a fiancé,” Andrés said. “A proud and former Royal Marine and an avid rugby player, his work around the world centered on helping people. He taught first aid to civilians in Ukraine. He trained people how to respond to trauma, and he supported humanitarian missions like ours.”

“His family knew they could not stop him from showing up in dangerous places to help people in desperate need, thousands of miles away from home,” Andrés said of Henderson.

Kirby was a “a gentleman and a hero,” Andrés said. “He was kind, funny and loved by anyone he met. A veteran of British military tours in Bosnia and Afghanistan, he was driven to help those in need because of the compassion he felt at his core. In the middle of violence and disaster, where people would choose to go, he was always ready to lend a hand.”

Soból “joined us on day one of the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” Andrés said, “helping refugees as they arrived at the train station in his hometown in Poland.”

“So many people would stop to hug him at our relief kitchen that he looked like the town’s unofficial mayor,” Andrés said. “He traveled to many more disasters with us because he had an unstoppable desire to help.”

Last week, Andrés noted, the town of Elbistan, Turkey named a street after Soból in honor of the impact he had after the earthquake there. Soból “was a brilliant soccer player, a beloved partner, a devoted son, brother, uncle and nephew,” Andrés said. “He was pure joy for everyone who knew him.”

“When disaster strikes, it’s easy to see the dark and never the light,” Andrés said. “But the reality is this: The light will always shine through.”

“I know we all have many unanswered questions about what happened and why,” he said. “There is no excuse for these killings. None. The official explanation is not good enough.”

“I know there are also many questions about why World Central Kitchen was in Gaza. We ask ourselves the same questions, day and night,” he said. “We are all consumed with anger, regret and sorrow. We faced the same impossible questions in Ukraine, where we also lost members of our extended World Central Kitchen family.”

“People don’t want our pity,” he said. “They want our respect. Our only way to show respect is facing the mayhem alongside them. We remind them that they are not alone in the darkness.”

Early in the war in Ukraine, Andrés traveled with his daughter Inés to Poland, where he planned to cross the border to Lviv, Ukraine. “I told her I didn’t want her to come because of the risks,” he said. “Her reply cut right to my heart. She said, ‘How do you think young people will change the world if we aren’t willing to take risks?’”

“I hope that World Central Kitchen continues its humanitarian work around the world, not just in Gaza,” he said, “carrying on the spirit of the fallen, and the resilience of the Palestinian people.”

“May their memory be a blessing for their families,” he said of his seven colleagues, “and may they be an inspiration for us all.”

For her benediction, Budde offered these words: “May you go now filled with the Spirit to be those hands and feet, to see with your eyes what God sees, to speak from your lips what God would have you say to this world with love and kindness.”

“Here I Am, Lord,” served as the recessional, followed by “I’ll Fly Away.”

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