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St. Thomas More Cathedral, Arlington, Virginia (Photo Credit: Fairfax Choral Society)

St. Thomas More Cathedral, Arlington, Virginia
(Photo Credit: Fairfax Choral Society)

By Faith J. H. McDonnell (@Cuchulain09)

Earlier this week I participated in an interreligious prayer gathering for religious freedom at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington, Virginia sponsored by the Catholic Diocese of Arlington and Bishop Paul S. Loverde. My bishop, the Rt. Rev. John Guernsey, Bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic, Anglican Church in North America, asked me to represent the Diocese and our commitment to religious freedom.

I was not sure what to expect, but Father Rooney, who was organizing the event for Bishop Loverde, gave me my choice of reading a scripture or offering a prayer. His guidelines for the gathering assured that “out of respect for the difference of one another’s faith . . . we do not pray together, but we gather to pray in one another’s presence, as respectful observers of one another’s spiritual heritage.” Therefore, he continued, “prayer forms should not be interactive or prayed in common, yet sensitive to both the tradition and the spirit of prayer in both the one praying as well as those who are observing.”

Participants in the prayer gathering along with Bishop Loverde included Buddhists from both N.E. Asia (Korean) and S.E. Asia (Sinhalese), an Elder from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a Hindu, a Muslim, both an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) bishop and pastor, and me. In addition to the speakers, the evening featured the cathedral’s handbell choir and an “interreligious choir” accompanied by organ and trumpet.

While I am ambivalent about interreligious spiritual interactions, there was a strong feeling of respect and friendship at this event. And there was no sense of compromise. Bishop Loverde left no question as to where he stood. He spoke of religious freedom as the precious foundation upon which America is based. He warned of the erosion of religious freedom in this nation, giving the example of the HHS mandate and remarking on the Fortnight of Freedom that the US Council of Catholic Bishops is sponsoring. And unlike some interfaith prayer gatherings, where great effort is made not to lift up the United States of America over other nations, and, in fact, to minimalize the USA, here the USA was honored for being a refuge for religious freedom. We sang “America the Beautiful” and “God of Our Fathers.”

I chose to pray at the event. That way, while I could share Christ’s love through my interactions with all of the participants and the worshippers, I could also pray with boldness in the midst of many people who do not know God revealed in Jesus Christ, our Lord. Here is my prayer. You will note that I tried, wherever possible, to use the personal pronoun — in keeping with Father Rooney’s guidelines!

Father in Heaven: Thank You for being here tonight. Thank You that Your Word promises that You are always with us — even unto the end of the world. Thank You that Your Word invites me to “come boldly to Your throne of grace that I might obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Lord, this is a time of need, and we do need Your help.

Oh God, I ask for Your Hand of Mercy to move on behalf of people of all faiths around the world who are oppressed and persecuted for their religious beliefs. I ask for the power of Your Holy Spirit to come upon the oppressors and the persecutors, that You would open their eyes to Your truth, and open their spirits to Your love. Let Your perfect love cast out their fear and transform their hatred.

Lord, there is so much suffering around the world. Here in the United States, we sometimes feel as if we are oppressed or persecuted, but it is nothing compared to what our brothers and sisters are enduring. You know all those in need of religious freedom, Lord. In some cases, their faith is known to You alone. But I particularly ask that You would bring freedom and deliverance to: prisoners of faith and conscience in prisons and labor camps; those who are marginalized, oppressed, and persecuted — whether by their own government or by outside actors; those who suffer from brutal attacks by extremist groups; those who are desperately attempting to escape from their own country; and those who are trying to survive in conflict zones, caught in the crossfire.

God, I thank You for this country, that as the hymn we sang says, is a “thoroughfare for freedom” in a wilderness of repression. Thank You for our Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion and speech to all. I ask that You would protect its integrity from those who would try to change it, and I ask that You would bless our brothers and sisters around the world with similar freedom, and that in the words of this hymn, You would:

Restore, O Lord, the honor of Your name, In works of sovereign power come shake the earth again; That men may see and come with the reverent fear to the living God, whose kingdom shall outlast the years.

Restore, O Lord, In all the earth Your fame, and in our time revive the church that bears Your name. And in Your anger, Lord, remember mercy, O living God, whose mercy shall outlast the years.

Bend us, O Lord, where we are hard and cold, In Your refiner’s fire come purify the gold. Though suffering comes and evil crouches near, Still our living God is reigning, He is reigning here.

I thank You and praise You, God, that You do live and reign eternally. In the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I pray. AMEN

(“Restore, O Lord” Graham Kendrick & Chris Rolinson, Copyright 1981 Thankyou Music)