Faith leaders in 50 cities observe day of 'mourning and lament' for victims of COVID-19

Faith leaders participate in a National Day of Mourning and Lament interfaith prayer service organized by Sojourners on June 1, 2020 to mourn the loss of over 100,000 people in the United States that have died after contracting COVID-19. | Screenshot:

Interfaith clergy as well as civic leaders in at least 50 cities nationwide declared Monday the National Day of Mourning and Lament for the over 100,000 people who have died in the United States from coronavirus. They also took the time to grieve the deaths of the recent victims of racial injustice.

“Today, prayers of mourning and lament are taking place around the country in over 50 cities, which have organized their own events and prayer services,” said Sojourners Executive Director Adam Taylor during an hour-long virtual interfaith prayer service

“We used the word ‘lament’ very intentionally. It is a religious word that signifies we must go deeper than simply remembrance. We must also search for lessons and even hard truths in the midst of our incredible loss. We mourn both individually and collectively because our hearts are broken. Our nation’s soul is in anguish.”

Throughout the weekend, faith leaders of three Abrahamic religions took time from their services on Friday, Saturday and Sunday — as many houses of worship returned to in-person services for the first time since the pandemic — to mourn and lament the deaths of people who have died because of COVID-19. 

On Monday, the interfaith service, organized by the progressive evangelical social justice organization Sojourners, was held featuring the organization’s co-founder, Jim Wallis, Mohamed Elsanousi of the Islamic Society of North America and Rabbi David Saperstein, who served for over 30 years with the Union for Reform Judaism's Religious Action Center, among others.

In the U.S., over 1.7 million people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 so far while over 104,000 people have died after contracting coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University & Medicine.

“We may not know the names of every COVID victim. But each of them have loved ones who are still grieving. We can’t read every one of their names today, but we know that God knows their names by heart,” Taylor explained. “They were mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, grandparents, neighbors, fellow members of our congregations and faith communities, and co-workers. They were all beloved. We honor and celebrate the lives they lived today.” 

Many coronavirus victims died alone without visitors by their side and were not given the proper memorial services because restrictions on large gatherings and social distancing guidelines have limited the time and space for families to grieve. 

“If ever there were a time that our nation needs to come together in unity for healing across ideological lines, across political lines, across religious lines, across racial lines, and across gender lines, it is at this moment,” said Saperstein, a former U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom under President Barack Obama. 

As some states and localities are beginning to ease restrictions on worship services, the call for a day of national mourning was endorsed by dozens of faith groups and leaders.

Endorsers include leaders from the World Evangelical Alliance, National Association of Evangelicals, National Latino Evangelical Coalition, National Council of Churches, United Church of Christ, The Episcopal Church, Islamic Society of North America as well as a number of Jewish congregations. 

“I am grateful to our almighty God who brought us together in this national moment of lament. The Lord of humanity, we ask you to forgive us,” Elsanousi said during the event. 

“We mourn the death of more than 100,000 of our fellow Americans. We mourn the death of hundreds of thousands of our fellow human beings all over the globe. Lord, give comfort to those who lost their dear ones. Give them the patience to overcome their grief. Lord, we pray to you for those who are suffering and those who have died.”

Along with dozens of other Christian leaders, the call was also endorsed by Claude Alexander of the Park Church in North Carolina, progressive Christian activist Shane Claiborne and leaders at evangelical and Catholic higher education institutions, including Fuller Theological Seminary President Mark Labberton. 

“I was very excited that there was such a deep response from Christian leaders across our families and boundaries but also Jewish and Muslim as well,” Wallis told The Christian Post in an interview. “The call that we all put together, it is not a statement. It is a sharing of a call.”

The call for mourning and lamenting was also backed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, a bipartisan association representing mayors from over 1,400 U.S. cities. 

Wallis told CP that the conference reached out to Sojourners about joining the call, not the other way around. He worked with Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, to try to get something formally backed by U.S. Congress. Although there was bipartisan support, Wallis said there wasn’t enough time to get a resolution passed. 

Although Monday’s day of mourning was organized before the viral video of George Floyd suffocating while being crushed by the knee of a white cop in Minneapolis surfaced, the faith leaders took time during the interfaith service Monday to lament the racism that still exists in American society today.

“Help us to understand and help us to learn that the knee is not just a knee. It is a system, a culture,” Walis said during a prayer. “It is a virus, the virus of white supremacy, with its knee on the neck of the nation.”

“We lament so many of our brothers and sisters as black parents who see their sons and daughters in that video, their faces, their necks, the knee on their children. Help us as white brothers and sisters who haven’t seen, lament that knee on the neck of this nation.” 

Elsanousi, who serves as the executive director of the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, said in his prayer that COVID-19 is not the only pandemic that America must fight. 

“The pandemic of discrimination is strengthening us and bringing our hearts together in solidarity to collectively fight the pandemic of racism and strive toward a walk of justice,” he said. “Lord of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad and all of the prophets and messengers, we turn to You in difficult and challenging times. We belong to You and we depend on You and we need You.”

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