After 100,000 COVID-19 Deaths in U.S., Interfaith Leaders, Mayors Call for Day of Mourning and Lament

Empty Chairs public witness

#Lament100K #DayofMourning

WASHINGTON, DC—As we mark the death of 100,000 people in the U.S. from COVID-19, an unprecedented group of 100+ national faith leaders—from Christian, Jewish and Muslim traditions representing major denominations, national faith-based organizations, local congregations, and millions of people of faith across the country—call for a National Day of Mourning and Lament. Together, they look to federal, state, and local elected officials to observe Monday, June 1 as National Day of Mourning and Lament, a day marked by moments of silence, lowering of flags, interfaith vigils, ringing of bells, and civic memorials.

This call is being supported by the U.S. Conference of Mayors who represent over 1,400 mayors across the country. Mayors lead on the frontline of the COVID-19 response effort and continue to model critical local leadership amid this difficult time. 

Together, interfaith leaders and mayors across the nation will call us to mourn, lament, and honor the dead, acknowledge the unequal nature of our suffering, pray together for the healing of the nation, and recommit to the difficult work ahead.

“It is always and everywhere the vocation of religion to remember the dead and mourn their passing. As the great American poet Gwendolyn Brooks wrote, ‘I hear things crying in the world.’ We too, as a church, ‘here things crying’ and step forward as people of faith in time of need,” said a key organizer and Sojourners senior editor Rose Marie Berger. “Prophetic lament is a tradition breaks open imaginations numbed by grief and fear. As a nation, we raise our lament to the highest offices in the land and, more importantly, beyond to storm the gates of heaven.”

“One hundred thousand people, citizens, friends, and family dead is a terrible marker we must not miss or pass by quickly or easily. We must stop. We must weep. We must mourn. We must honor. And we must lament which is to feel and bear great grief and sorrow, and to reflect upon it,” said president and founder Rev. Jim Wallis“To pray for the healing of the nation is to go even deeper than our horrible sickness; we must also see the national brokenness and signs of hope the virus continues to reveal. Our suffering has been painfully and racially disproportionate, but our healing must be in unison.”

“As a nation we can’t afford to be numbed or desensitized by this staggering milestone. Every one of the over 100,000 lives in the U.S. lost to COVID-19 is precious and sacred.  While the need for social distancing has precluded funerals and other traditional forms of mourning, we can and must find ways to grieve and lament together as a nation,” said executive director Rev. Adam Taylor. “These tragic deaths include so many heroic frontline and essential workers who risked their lives to heal, protect, and serve others.”

The National Day of Mourning and Lament will follow a weekend of services from Muslim, Jewish and Christian houses of worship—including Protestant, Catholic, Evangelical, African American, Hispanic, Asian American, and Native American—all united in times of lament and mourning for the dead. Remembering will unite across lines of religion and traditions and transcend our politics.  

For more information, visit Sojourners at sojo.net.

#Lament100k Wednesday

Empty Chair public witness

“My companions and neighbors you have put away from me, and hidden my friends out of my sight.”—Psalm 88:18

O God, you are the Keeper of the Book of Life, and no one dies alone—but all under your loving gaze. So that their passing is not an empty data point on death’s grim graph, let us say the names of those who have died and to remember them. [Name the names of the dead here.] Into your hands, O Lord, we commend their spirits. Hear our prayer.

This week our nation will cross a grim marker of 100,000 Americans dead from Covid-19. Many around the country will be putting out empty chairs at 12p noon on Monday, June 1, in public places with names or numbers or photos of those who have died. Monday, June 1, will be the National day of Mourning and Lament. #Lament100k #DayofMourning

#Lament100k Tuesday

Empty Chair public witness

“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”—Matthew 2:18

In all humility, we turn tour God today to honor our dead. We have had no time, no space, no moment to mourn. We made promises to love and protect our families, “til death do us part.” In their final days, we are heart-broken that we were apart from those who were dying. May they forgive us. May we forgive ourselves. We claim in faith that we are born from God, we live for God, and we return to God. We seek rest and time in you. Hear our prayer.

This week our nation will cross a grim marker of 100,000 Americans dead from Covid-19. Many around the country will be putting out empty chairs at 12p noon on Monday, June 1, in public places with names or numbers or photos of those who have died. Monday, June 1, will be a day of national lament and healing for our nation. #Lament100k

#Lament100k Monday

Empty Chair public witness

“How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become, she that was great among the nations!”—Lamentations 1:1

O God, Creator of the universe, we stand before you as fragile humans, made only of earthy clay and Your breath. In all humility, we hold to you all those who are sick with the coronavirus, who are COVID positive, and all those who care for them and work intimately for their healing. We name the sick and hold them in Your healing light, O Lord. Hear our prayer.

This week our nation will cross a grim marker of 100,000 Americans dead from Covid-19. Many around the country will be putting out empty chairs at 12p noon on Monday, June 1, in public places with names or numbers or photos of those who have died. Monday, June 1, will be a day of national lament and healing for our nation. #Lament100k

April 30: Feast Day of Daniel Berrigan

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Philip and Daniel Berrigan | Jan. 25, 1971

Fr. Dan died on this day in 2016. Long live the Resurrection!

Below are reflections from that year:

Fr. Daniel J. Berrigan (May 9, 1921 – April 30, 2016): ‘A Priest of Uncommon Conscience’
by Rose Marie Berger

Daniel J. Berrigan–priest, prophet, poet–died today in New York City. He was 94.

In the coming days there will be joyful celebrations of Fr. Dan and gatherings to tell his mighty story. He was one of the great Christian witnesses of our time; a giant of the 20th century in America, along with Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Martin King, Fannie Lour Hamer, and Cesar Chavez.

He leaves an extended family of Berrigans, O’Gradys, and McAlisters, and an even larger community who called him “Uncle Dan.” But now, at last, he is pain-free and dancing with the angels and his beloved co-conspirator, brother Phil, who preceded him in death in 2002.

For me, I will remember a few small things: First, that my father kept above his desk a photo of Dan Berrigan’s arrest in 1968 at a Catonsville (Md) army draft board and recruitment center, where Dan and 8 others poured their own blood and homemade napalm on 378 draft files and burned them in the parking lot. Years later, Dan told me that he’d once been flying on a commercial airline and the pilot overheard his name from the ticket desk. The pilot walked up to Dan and asked if he could shake his hand. “You don’t know me,” he said, “but I owe you my life. My draft record was one of the one’s you burned that day. Because of all the mix up, I was never called up. Thank you for saving my life.”

Daniel Berrigan by Rose Marie Berger
Daniel Berrigan by Rose Marie Berger

Second, that I was able to study Isaiah with him on a Sojourners community retreat in the early 1990s (see photo at right I took on that retreat in rural Maryland). And I heard him read his Advent poetry one year–wild, frightening, unpredictable, incarnate–when he was visiting Dorothy Day house in Washington, D.C. (I also asked him to dance once at his 75th birthday celebration, but his back pained him too much to accept.)

Third, I was able to spend a time at Dan Berrigan’s summer house on Block Island, Rhode Island, given over to him by the radical Episcopalian lawyer and theologian William Stringfellow and his partner Methodist poet Anthony Towne. The tiny house teeters on an eroding cliff over the Atlantic. It’s a place where the primal forces of God are not obscured by human hubris. But it was here that Bill and Anthony “harbored” Dan there when he was a fugitive from the FBI after being convicted of felonies “by reason of the illegal activation of their opposition to the Vietnam war,” said the trial document. Framed on the wall of the house is a calligraphy with an excerpt of Bill and Anthony’s letter in defense of their actions of “harboring a fugitive.”

It says:

A Christian does what he must do as a Christian
Daniel Berrigan is our FRIEND
And is always welcome
in our home
any visit from him is an
honor for us
because he is a priest of
uncommon conscience
he his a citizen of
urgent moral purpose
and he is a human being of
exemplary courage ….

Dan always was one to turn questions upside down. On his own death I suspect his mischievous grin has finally returned: “Death? What death? I’m only just getting started.”[]

Here’s an excerpt from one of the tributes in Sojourners magazine to Dan Berrigan from the 1990s. It’s taken from a court case:

Judge: “Father Berrigan, regardless of the outcome of these hearings, will you promise the court that you will refrain from such acts in the future?”

Dan: “Your honor, it seems to me that you are asking the wrong question.”

Judge: “OK, Father Berrigan, what do you think is the proper question?”

Dan: “Well, your honor, it appears to me that you should ask President Bush if he’ll stop making missiles; and, if he’ll stop making them, then I’ll stop banging on them and you and I can go fishing.”

-From testimony at the Plowshares Eight resentencing, 1990.

For more about Fr. Berrigan, read Looking Back in Gratitude and his own autobiography To Dwell in Peace (1988). And every American should read The Trial of the Catonsville Nine by Daniel Berrigan. It is a classic of American resistance literature.

Video: The Flickering Flame – Life and Legacy of Chief Turkey Tayac

[55 minute documentary from Seneca Media, 1999] The story of the man who led the Piscataway Indian Nation and their revitalization in the 20th century. The Piscataway are the traditional people of what is now called Washington DC. From Turkey Tayac’s childhood and service in WWI to his work as an herbalist and traditionalist who embraced the advent of the American Indian Movement, to his last days and the campaign to have him buried in a national park that was once the ancient Piscataway village and burial site Moyaone, his fascinating life is shared in memories of friends and family. With gratitude to the Tayac family, Gabrielle, Sebi, Jansikwe, June, Chief Billy, Mark and the whole Piscataway people.

Via Crucis, Via Lucis: Practicing the Easter Season’s “Stations of Light”

As we celebrate the Easter Season, I’m reposting a piece I wrote back in 2004 on the “Stations of Light.” This is a wonderful practice for helping us focus on the joy of the Easter season as intently as we focus on the repentance of the Lenten season.

Via Crucis, Via Lucis
by Rose Marie Berger

It’s an old Latin adage. “Via Crucis, Via Lucis.” Can you see the abuelita, the old grandmother, shrugging her shoulders and patting her teenage grandson on the cheek? Where there’s the cross, there’s also light.

A few years ago Pope John Paul II decided to officially resurrect an ancient Christian custom called the Via Lucis – the Way of Light. It’s a devotional practice similar to the Stations of the Cross, but it focuses on the Easter appearances. It’s also called the Stations of the Resurrection or the Stations of Joy. Well suited for the 50 days of the Easter season prior to Pentecost, the Via Lucis scriptures reflect on the final chapters of the four gospels, which narrate the resurrection appearances. There are 14 “stations of light.”

Continue reading “Via Crucis, Via Lucis: Practicing the Easter Season’s “Stations of Light””

Easter Sunrise 2020

Thanks to the 5 women and one dog who got up “early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark” and “went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.” We encountered early morning runners, but no park police warning us away from the Falls Line in Malcolm X Park in D.C. So with iPhones for lyrics to “Christ Our Lord Is Risen Today,” sharing reading from John 20, my homemade Easter candle, a jug of water, an asperges of blooming broom, and Easter eggs dyed with red cabbage, we celebrated the incredible news we’d received, reflected on our times, recited our baptismal vows, got sprinkled, then cracked our Easter eggs together with joyous shouts of “He Is Risen! He Is Risen Indeed!” (All while mostly wearing our C-19 masks. What a season it has been!)

Holy Saturday, Sabbatum Sanctum

A woman waits outside the tombs at Lalibela, Ethiopia.

While the body of her Son lays in the tomb and his soul has descended to the dead to announce liberation from the shadow of darkness to his ancestors, Mary waits, in faith, the victorious triumph of her Son over death.

Agonized, attentive, grieving, exhausted, we wait.

“The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him” (Habakkuk 2:20).