Bishops join to pray for unity in the commonwealth


RICHMOND – As the General Assembly starts the second half of its 2017 session, Virginia’s two Catholic bishops joined together Thursday to offer an evening prayer for the commonwealth, urging people to treat each other with respect even when they disagree.

On a cold evening, people of all faiths gathered at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart for the Virginia Vespers service, which was led by Michael Francis Burbidge, bishop of the Diocese of Arlington, and Francis Xavier DiLorenzo, his counterpart for the Diocese of Richmond.

The evening’s message was unity. Burbridge discussed not only loving thy neighbor but also respecting them.

“No matter how harsh the political climate can get, we are called to recognize the dignity of each other,” Burbridge said.

He said respect includes speaking to each other without “name calling” or “generalizations.” The bishop said one of the most important things that Pope Frances is teaching the world is how to dialogue.

“He’s trying to remind us that it is OK within the church, within politics, to have different opinions,” Burbridge said. “But are we really listening to one another? Do we know how to listen to one another? Do we know how to respect one another? Quite frankly, it’s what our political world is in need of right now.”

That message struck a chord with the audience, which included several state lawmakers and other public officials. This is the second year that the state’s two Catholic dioceses have held the Virginia Vespers, timed with the midpoint of the legislative session.

Sen. Glen H. Sturtevant, R-Midlothian, was one of the legislators in attendance.

“I think it’s doing things like this that help folks come together,” Sturtevant said. “Whether you’re Republican or Democrat, my experience is most people want to find ways where they can compromise. We can always do better to be constructive when we disagree. You can disagree without being disagreeable.”

The evening wasn’t just about state politics. Burbridge also made a reference to President Donald Trump’s ban against admitting refugees as well as visitors and immigrants from seven mostly Muslim countries. Trump has said that the ban is temporary and that it is a necessary step to keep terrorists from entering the United States.

The Arlington bishop quoted Pope Francis as saying, “To change the world, we must be good to those who cannot repay us.”

“The Lord teaches us every man and woman and child, whether they be refugees or immigrants – they all merit our respect,” Burbridge said.

Capital News Service is a student-operated news reporting program sponsored by the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture at Virginia Commonwealth University.

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