From start to finish, the annual University of Notre Dame Walk the Walk prayer service featured inspiring song and rousing words and prayer on Sunday (Jan. 22). The prayer service was part of a weekend of events beginning Walk the Walk Week, a series of campus-wide activities and discussions designed to invite reflection about diversity and inclusion and honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr from January 19-27.
Following a moving rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” led by the University’s Voices of Faith choir, President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., exclaimed, “Great start!” before offering a warm welcome to the standing-room-only audience of students, faculty, administrators and staff, along with many visitors from the community, including the Most Rev. Michael Bruce Curry, presiding bishop and primate of The Episcopal Church, and other members of The Episcopal Church’s national and local clergy.
Father Jenkins began the service with these words: “Holy God, today, we remember Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s struggle for equality, justice and dignity for African Americans, a struggle that inspired so many other reform movements seeking to highlight the plight of the oppressed in society. We pray that all who serve in civil and religious authority remember that we have all been created in your image, and that the intrinsic dignity within each of us calls for uplifting every person. May your Holy Spirit remind us all that you show no partiality towards nationality, race, ethnicity or gender. For us to do so is to go against your great commandment of love toward one another. We pray that the Church will not be complicit in injustice by being silent, but that it can rise up with a prophetic voice that speaks with integrity and advances the values of your kingdom.”
Guests filled the Basilica of the Sacred Heart to hear the sermon from Bishop Curry. A prophetic leader and skilled orator, he delivered an engaging, emotional and sometimes humorous 40-minute address that moved the audience to witness, applaud and nod along throughout.
Bishop Curry began his sermon recounting the life of Hebrew prophet Jeremiah and quoting from him, “‘Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.’”
He continued the analogy of the tree and went on to tell of an ancient, giant and now famous tree in Ghana, West Africa, that grows along a slave death march route that many passed when being sent to ships along the coast for transport to the Americas. He told the history of the tree and significance of its growth in the dry conditions near the Sahara Desert.
“There’s a lesson in that tree,” Bishop Curry said. “The key to that tree and its life, no matter what the weather, its life, its ability to have branches wide and diverse and inclusive, was that it was connected. It had roots, deep in the soil, going to the very source of life itself.
“We got troubles. No need to kid each other. But I am so thankful that you are raising up students to take their place in this country and the countries of the world. They must help us create the loving community from our jangles of discord and disharmony.”
Then, quoting Dr. King, he said, “‘We must learn to live together as brothers and sisters or we will perish together as fools.’ The choice is ours — chaos or community. My sisters and my brothers, I want to suggest tonight that if we would discover and find the beloved community, we must go deep. Deep in the soil. Deep in our roots to the very source of light, life and love itself. Dig deep!”
He later concluded by encouraging love for all, saying, “Leave this sacred Church this day and help this world become God’s beloved community.”
The prayer service included additional musical interludes by the Voices of Faith and a touching version of the Prayer of the Faithful where six students of various nationalities read intercessions in their native languages.
Father Jenkins concluded the service by praying: “O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family, take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts, break down the walls that separate us, unite us in bonds of love, and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on Earth. We ask for your blessing on all of us gathered here tonight; that you guide us in your good time and perfect example so that all may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
As attendees recessed from the Basilica, they collected a lit candle and processed to the Sacred Heart of Jesus statue to place the candle in a silent moment of reflection.