The Prayer of a Nation
7/1/2017by Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson
In a spirit of solidarity, leaders express gratitude to God and work to protect the religious liberty of all
ON MAY 4, I had the honor of joining Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington; Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston- Houston and president of the U.S. bishops’ conference; members of the Little Sisters of the Poor; and leaders of Orthodox, Protestant, Jewish and other faith communities at a White House Rose Garden ceremony during the National Day of Prayer.
The event, at which President Trump signed an executive order on religious liberty, began with the singing of the Lord’s Prayer.
The spring observance of the National Day of Prayer was established by Congress and proclaimed by President Harry Truman in 1952. While some may dismiss the National Day of Prayer as largely symbolic, and others, like the Freedom From Religion Foundation, may ridicule it, I felt that something very important took place. Religious leaders from around the nation joined together in prayer at the White House with a deep sense of respect for each other’s traditions.
Cardinal Wuerl was one of those chosen to lead the gathering in prayer. His words truly captured the atmosphere of unity when he said: “O God, who gave one origin to all peoples and willed to gather from them one family for yourself, fill our hearts, we pray, with the fire of your love and kindle in all of us a desire for the just advancement of our neighbor, that through all good things which you richly bestow upon all, each human person may be brought to perfection, every division may be removed, and equality and justice be established in human society.”
Years ago, Father Patrick Peyton repeatedly reminded us that “the family that prays together, stays together.” Perhaps the same might be said of nations.
Approximately six decades ago, the Knights of Columbus led the effort to add the words “under God” to the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance. The phrase is taken from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
And it was Lincoln who first proclaimed a National Day of Prayer in 1863, stating that “it is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow … and to recognize … that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.”
During the ceremony this past May, the president signed an executive order on religious liberty. Some have criticized the order for not going far enough to establish new, broad protections.
But Cardinal DiNardo’s response seems most appropriate. Noting that he had met with the president to discuss these issues shortly before the ceremony, the cardinal stated, “Today’s executive order begins the process of alleviating the serious burden of the HHS mandate. We will engage with the administration to ensure that adequate relief is provided to those with deeply held religious beliefs.”
Seeing the president greet the Little Sisters of the Poor and invite them to the podium to stand with him, those in attendance were assured that the “process of alleviating the serious burden of the HHS mandate” had indeed begun.
Just days after the president’s signing of the executive order, I had the privilege of a one-on-one meeting with Vice President Pence to discuss these issues in more detail.
It is said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Recently, the president took two such steps.
The first was setting a legal foundation by executive order to protect our free exercise of religion from overreach by federal agencies.
The second came in answer to a question from EWTN, whose News Nightly reporters had recently visited Iraq with Knights of Columbus sponsorship. The president stated that he was going to help the Christians of the Middle East.
The Knights of Columbus has always been steadfast in our defense of religion freedom at home and abroad. Seeing a new concern for this issue at the highest levels of our country is welcome.
Welcome, too, is the fact that Pope Francis and the president agreed to do more to protect religious freedom and religious minorities when they met May 24 in the Vatican.
Now is the time for all of us to commit to do more.