In the aftermath of the death of George Floyd on May 25 while in police custody and the protests and riots that followed, Gwen Pederson said she wanted to bring people together to pray for an end to systemic racism in our nation and world.
Pederson is a member of the social concerns committee at Sacred Heart Parish in Sauk Rapids, so she reached out to the other members of the committee and to a local interfaith dialogue group she is a part of for ideas.
“It was heavy on my heart over the last few weeks to come together in solidarity as an interfaith group,” Pederson said. “It just feels good that people share what’s on their hearts.”
The result was the “Interfaith Prayer Service for Peace, Justice and Solidarity in Our Country and in Our World” held June 11 in the parking lot at Sacred Heart. Dozens of people of different faiths from the area came to pray and share personal stories.
“We just wanted to gather together to demonstrate to the world our call to solidarity in everything we do, that we are intimately connected in the Body of Christ, and when one member hurts we all hurt,” Deacon Joe Kresky said as he welcomed participants.
After a short service that included readings, prayers and a song, participants were free to speak at a microphone. Prayers were offered for victims of violence, an end to systemic racism and for a change of heart for those who don’t see racism as a problem.
Some also prayed for the release of immigrants being held in jail during the COVID-19 pandemic and for the care of all creation.
“I appreciated that there was a loose structure of opening us in prayer and closing us in prayer and simply giving a place for us to share what we wanted to share in terms of story reflections and prayer together from different cultural perspectives, different generational cohorts, and different religious traditions,” said Sister Michelle L’Allier, a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls. “What a beautiful opportunity to meet together in prayer outside in the beauty of nature.”
Ayan Omar, a member of the St. Cloud Muslim/Christian Dialogue Group, said she didn’t know what to expect when she was invited to participate in the prayer service but felt a sense of comfort hearing others’ prayers and stories.
“I felt that in my pain I’m not on an island,” Omar said. “There are people who don’t look like me, don’t pray like me, don’t think like me that are equally hurting … and they have such an open heart and they’re willing to speak it. There’s some comfort in my misery knowing that there are others that are equally frustrated, equally angry and hurting.”
Omar closed the service by reading the Peace Prayer of St. Francis.
“I loved closing with the Saint Francis prayer of making us all instruments of peace,” said Sister Michelle. “And to have it prayed by a Muslim sister was so beautiful because it’s a universal prayer, to bring light into the darkness and hope when there’s despair, to understand more than to be understood. These are universal human invitations. And the opportunity to open from the heart with each other is a rare opportunity.”
Top photo: Greg Spofford of Little Falls joins in the prayer service as he sits in the parking lot of Sacred Heart Church in Sauk Rapids.