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Dignitaries ring in Earth Day at Flushing Meadows

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A gong tolled at the Queens Museum of Modern Art in Flushing Meadows Corona Park Saturday at 1:32 p.m., the exact moment the Peace Bell rang out at the United Nations building.

The simultaneous pealing came as the second winter gave way to spring, also known as the vernal equinox, and signified that the first Earth Day of the year was underway.

Dozens of people gathered at the museum to hope for peace, celebrate the Earth and join together in support of protecting its fragile environment as the growing season starts anew.

“Today is a great day. The spirit of Earth Day is well and alive and the spirit is growing bigger,” said John Tandana, vice president of the Queens chapter of the United Nations Association, the event’s lead organizer. “We have people from all over.”

Those people included dignitaries such as the ambassador of the Republic of Maldives and the deputy ambassador of Burkina Faso; representatives of a wide range of groups concerned with issues related to conservation, peace and the environment; and concerned citizens who wanted to see what they could do to help the cause.

The vernal equinox is the first of two Earth Days, the second one in April having taken on more prominence in recent years. But Tandana said Earth Day does not begin and end with any given holiday or date.

“People should celebrate Earth Day every day, it’s so important,” he said. “We hope people will do something for the Earth every day.”

Before the striking of the gong, attendees joined one another in a variety of interfaith prayers led by Christian, Sikh, Islamic, Hindu, Jewish and Buddhist spiritual leaders.

The gong was hit and the diverse gathering then proceeded to the Unisphere for a group photograph showing their solidarity in supporting the goals and ideals of Earth Day.

The event also featured a number of speakers and music and dance performances, with the highlight being a group sing-along of “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”

The event was fun for the whole family — a fact Tandana called key to ensuring the future protection of the environment.

“The most important thing is to create awareness for planet Earth and our environment,” Tandana said. “The kids especially are in tune with that. They’re the ones who tell their parents, ‘Oh, you’re not supposed to do that.’”

The second Earth Day of 2010 falls on April 22. This year will be the 40th anniversary of the international holiday.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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