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Chicago Japanese-Americans Pray For Loved Ones

CHICAGO (CBS) -- In times of disaster, many people turn to religion for answers and comfort.

As CBS 2's Mike Puccinelli reports, members of Chicago's Japanese-American community spent Sunday in prayer, as they struggled with the destruction and uncertainty.

It was the meditation of compassion, and on Sunday at the Midwest Buddhist Temple, 435 W. Menomonee St., prayers took on a greater sense of urgency for many of the congregants who have loved ones in Japan and in the quake zone.

Joanne Tohei is one of them. After the quake hit, she was waiting for hours to hear from her son, who teaches school in Fukoshima – one of the hard hit areas.

"I cannot reach him by telephone," Tohei said.

That caused Tohei, who was seeing the devastation on television, to panic for what seemed like an eternity.

"Hearing about the earthquake, and then just kind of walking around in a daze, because it hit the northern part of Japan, where all my family is," Tohei said.

But then she received the best news of her life, in the form of five e-mailed words that made all the difference.

"Mom, don't worry, I'm fine," her son wrote.

"Such a tremendous burden lifted off my shoulders," Tohei said. "I uttered a great sight of relief."

It is the type of feeling Molly Sakamoto is hoping to experience. But she has still not been able to contact some of her relatives in Sendai.

"Until we can find out for sure that they're OK, that's the only thing," she said, "so in the meantime, we're just waiting."

She is waiting and praying, just like Kiku Tauru. Her family is in Hiroshima.

There are safe, but the former Tokyo resident wanted to be in Temple Sunday to pray for those across the world who make up her human family.

"It's one of those times when you realize we are all one family," she said.

Temple members plan to hold regular bake sales and book sales to generate money that will be sent over to help the Japanese people recover, from what officials now say is the country's worst disaster since World War II.

There are more than 20,000 Japanese-Americans in the Chicago area.

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