Students, faculty and staff arrived alone and in pairs for the Sabbath Time at Salve Regina University in Newport, on Thursday. They came from different directions on campus and entered a circle near a grove of trees behind Our Lady of Mercy Chapel.

Linda Forsberg, the assistant director of the Mercy Center for Spiritual Life, welcomed everyone.

“Thank you for coming. I know many of us have heavy hearts for all those affected in the land we all call holy,” she said. “We’ll begin with lighting a candle and sharing a simple song that we will all sing together that is in your program.”

A woman distributed candles while another woman followed behind and lit them.

The voice of cantor Carmen DeFabo rose with the breeze and floated over those gathered, whose voices mingled with hers in song. DeFabo is a sophomore who sings in churches and spaces at home and at school, including during the regular mass at Our Lady of Mercy chapel. 

Each week the university community holds Sabbath Time on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 1:45 to 2:15 p.m. No classes are scheduled at this time. 

“This is a time for reflection and prayer,” said Theresa Ladrigan-Whelpley, vice president of mission integration. “We called this Sabbath Time today a prayer for peace.”

This Sabbath Time is dedicated to all those suffering violence and heart-rending loss in Gaza and Israel.

Landrigan-Whelpley offered the gathering prayer:

“As we gather in this time of Sabbath prayer, we offer together a Psalm of lament, a Psalm of mercy and a Psalm of peace.”

Accompanied on piano by Matthew Kelly, DeFabo sang from Psalm 139:12: “Our darkness is never darkness in your sight. The deepest night is clear as daylight.”

Daniel Cowdin, chair of the department of religious studies and theological studies, read prayer petitions from reflections by Pope Francis as well as the Sisters of Mercy.

“In all these conflicts, women and children are the most vulnerable and the primary victims of violence and inhumanity. Let us pray that all human life is sacred,” Cowdin said.

Aida Neary wore a navy blue sweatshirt with the word “mercy” in bold white all-caps as she held her candle and sang “O Lord, hear my prayer."

“I am a mother of two,” Neary said. “And all I can think of are the parents who have lost children. I can't, I can't stop thinking about it…if somebody doesn't stop the cycle of violence, it'll keep going. And at this point, I feel helpless. And when I'm, when I feel helpless, I pray.”

Jane Benz, a junior studying art history and philosophy, said she often comes to Sabbath Time.

 “It's really, really nice just to be able to kind of take moments of peace with other people in an intimate setting or a natural setting,” Benz said.

She doesn’t personally know anyone affected by the war, but she came to express solidarity and what’s in her heart in prayer.

Salve President Kelli Armstrong stood next to Salve’s chancellor, holding a candle and singing as the service neared its end. They sang words adapted from St. Patrick’s breastplate: “Peace before us. Peace behind us. Peace under our feet. Peace within us. Peace over us. Let all around us be peace.”

“I think all of us who are watching the horrific violence and the terror and the sadness in the Middle East feel helpless. We want to be able to express, in community, how we are feeling,” Armstrong said. “As an institution, we welcome people of all faiths and those who don’t practice a faith tradition, who want to serve others. We’re about service and social justice.”

Chancellor Sister Therese Antone had tears on her cheeks when the service closed. Her voice caught as she spoke of her time in the Middle East.

“I have traveled in that region quite extensively. I’ve been to Israel, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and I have a lot of emotional feelings about the situation,” Antone said. “I was really thinking of the number of people that I have met in that region. And the kindness that I have always experienced from every individual that I ever came in contact with and so I was filled with really deep sadness.”

Cheryl Hatch can be reached at