UrbaNerd: What the City Council Has Prayed For

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Bronx Councilmember Vanessa Gibson in prayer before a December 2013 stated meeting.

William Alatriste for the New York City Council

Bronx Councilmember Vanessa Gibson in prayer before a December 2013 stated meeting.

The impending visit of Pope Francis is a moment to consider the role of faith in public life in New York City, home to a reputation for secularism and an incredible array of houses of worship and vibrant faith communities. Every time the City Council holds a stated meeting—the sessions at which the entire body gathers in the main chamber to pass legislation and hold ceremonies—the event is opened by a prayer. Here’s a sampling of the prayers said in City Hall so far this year:

January 7
Rev. NaRon Tillman, St. Phillip’s Christian Church, 765 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn

Lord, we thank you for another year. 2015 is the year of great expectation. We thank you for the greater commitment for all of our elected officials, with our leadership that you have allowed to be in this place and in this presence. We thank you, Lord God, for all of our politicians, all our police, all of our preachers, and our community. Thank you for our Speaker. Thank you for our Public Advocate. Lead them and guide them. Season their words with grace. Allow your hand of protection and favor to be placed upon them. Continue to prepare them for the now, for our city needs their leadership. Thank you, Lord, for allowing us to be at this time in this present, in this moment, and we expect great things. We look for you for our help. We pray just as those who were before us. We seek you for divine strategy just as you guided those in times past. You have led us to this place where women now serve, and we have a President that is African-American. And our legislative halls are filled with those who are multi-cultural. We expect greater, Lord, because you have done, and you have been great to us. Lead us, Oh, God, in this time of turmoil, in this time of restlessness. You shall bring forth peace. Let peace flow from Staten Island to Long Island, from the streets of Brooklyn, Bronx, and Queens. Allow us to come together on the same accord with the same mindset to do your will and your work that we might be better, that we might be different. That we might be difference makers, in this time, in your time, in your world. We say amen.

January 22
Father Raymond Nobiletti, Church of the Transfiguration, Roman Catholic Church at 25 Mott Street, New York, New York

Let us bow down our heads and ask for God’s blessings. Lord God, we thank you for the gift of life of Detective Rafael Ramos and Detective Wenjian Liu and all those in public service in our city who sacrificed themselves and their families so that we may live in peace, good health and harmony. We ask you to bless their families with the support and understanding needed in this time of loss and grief. Let the legacy of these two men be one of heroism and sacrifice given for us here to day and for the future generations of New York City. And my this dedication today be a reminder for the generations to come that each one of us can, through our own gifts and talents, contribute to the peace and harmony of this great City of New York. [Speaks in Cantonese and Spanish] Amen.

February 12
Reverend Monsignor Fernando Ferrarese, Immaculate Conception Church in Astoria, Queens

Oh God we beseech you to bless and strengthen the members of the city council so that they can accomplish true and lasting good for the people of our city. On this day when we commemorate our beloved former president Abraham Lincoln, help them to learn from his life the lasting virtues that make for true civic greatness. Give our council the virtue of wisdom and prudence that they may weigh the pros and cons of each issue and strive to put the welfare of the people before their own, bestow upon them the virtue of justice that they may guard the most neglected of our city as well as those of wealth and power, make them courageous in struggling against evil and its corrosive power that they may unselfishly fight to better the lot of our most vulnerable even in the face of criticism and disfavor. Like former president Lincoln so poetically said let them be motivated by the better angels of their nature to help to reconcile the divisions of our city. With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as god gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in. May these sentiments of Lincoln guide the deliberations of the council today and every day. To this let us say Amen.

February 26
Reverend Vanessa Brown, Rivers at Rehoboth Church at 263 West 86th Street in Manhattan

Shall we pray. Universal loving and all powerful God, we open this meeting inviting your presence here on this afternoon. Let your grace and your peace be evident in this place. We are thankful that you, God, love the people of New York City, and want what’s best for us as a community. We are grateful to the men and women you have allowed to govern us. Give them wisdom as the bear the privilege and responsibility to lead the people of New York City knowing their decisions impact many, many people. Please, bless Mayor de Blasio, his family, the City Council members, our Public Advocate, and their families. And all other City officials represented here and their families as they serve the citizens of New York City. In the name of all that is righteous, just and true, Amen.

March 11
Dr. Uma Mysorekar from the Hindu Temple Society of North America located in Queens, New York. Quiet in the chambers

Thank you. [Prays in Hindi] Oh Lord Ganesha who has curved tusk and a strong body with luster equal to millions of suns, I pray for your grace to make all our endeavors succeed without any obstacles. 00:39:44 [Prays in Hindi]Oh Lord, may all mankind be happy, all mankind be healthy, may all mankind experience prosperity, may none in this world suffer, let there be peace, peace and peace. And universal prayer will conclude. Oh adorable Lord of mercy and love, salutations and prostrations unto thee. Thou art omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient. Thou art Satchitananda. Thou art existence, knowledge and bliss absolute. Thou art the Indweller of all beings. Let us abide in thee forever and ever. Thank you.

March 31
Sister Julia Suarez from Saint Jerome’s Hands Community Center, 230 Alexander Avenue in the Borough of the Bronx

God, give me faith today to continue forward, grant me speed to fortitude [sic] to forgive, give me patience to understand and help, grant me strength to not fall, give me strength to rise if I have fallen, grant me love to provide, give me what I need and know what I want, grant me eloquence to speak what I should speak, make me the best example for my children, let me be the best friend to my friends, make me an instrument of your will, give me the strength to withstand adversity. Let me know what you want from me. Grant me your peace so I can share it with those who don’t have it. Finally, walk with me and let me know that it is so. Amen.

May 27
Abbott Bhante Kondanna, Staten Island Buddhist Vihara at 115 John Street in Staten Island, New York

Good afternoon. Oh, the Blessed One, the Exalted One, the fully enlightened one, peaceful and calm, and wise and skillful. Not proud and demanding in nature. Let them not do the slightest thing that the wise would later reprove, wishing in gladness and in safety. May all beings be at peace, whatever living being there may be, whether they are weak or strong omitting none, the great or the mighty, medium, short or small, the seen and the unseen. Those living near and far away. Those born and to be born. May all beings be at peace. Let none deceive another or despise any being in any state. Let none show anger or ill will, wish harm upon another. Even as a mother protects with her life her child, her only child so with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings radiating kindness over the entire world. Spreading upward to the skies, and downward to the depths, outwards and unbound, free from hatred and ill will. May everyone in the City Council thus be well, happy, peaceful and secure. May all those who are working hard to improve quality of life of everyone in this great city, in this nation be well, happy and peaceful and secure. May all beings including all those who experienced terrible effects of earthquake and who are still suffering in Nepal be well, happy, peaceful and secure. May we all and all beings be free from suffering, be free from fear, be free from grief. May we all and all beings attain peace and happiness. Sadhu, Sadhu, Sadhu. As several weeks ago, a terrible earthquake took place in Nepal where many Buddhists live. Eight thousand plus people died. Out of those, 200 some were Monks and nuns. Many became homeless. So, we Buddhists are grateful, too, for support received from many people from various countries including the U.S.A. Earthquakes, floods, fire, and hurricanes are familiar things in the world. They come and go. Can we stop them? No, we cannot do anything against nature. We have to understand the nature. Nature elements are so powerful. We cannot be distrustful to the nature. If we become too greedy we cause harm to them– nature. Nature will harm us. Therefore, we have to be mindful what we do. Let’s do not anything harmful to any being. All beings happy and secure. [sings] Thank you.

June 10
Imam Khalid Latif, Islamic Center at NYU, 238 Thompson Street, New York, New York

Let us pray. Almighty god, most merciful of those who show mercy, bestower of love, source of peace, bless this gathering and all those who are in it. Assembled here today are men and women who truly represent everything great about this city; shower upon us your infinite mercy and instill within each of us a sound sense of respect for others. The diversity of this city is unlike any other; help us to harness that diversity and turn it into a much-needed pluralism that celebrates our differences and respects and seeks to serve our most underprivileged. The coming weeks present opportunities in abundance to better understand that diversity; as Pride Month is upon us the Islamic month of fasting of Ramadan is set to start next week and it will be sharing its first day with Juneteenth, a day commemorating the actual end of slavery in this country and a day that all New Yorkers should know and appreciate, especially as we are still trying to understand that black lives matter. Help us to stand with the people and make us not those who wait for them to come to us. Let us be motivated by selflessness, not selfishness; sincerity and not self-centeredness. Increase us in courage, compassion and confidence, shield us from any anxiety, anguish and affliction; protect us from hearts that are not humble, tongues that are not wise, eyes that have forgotten how to cry and grant us and our loved ones only the best in this world and the best in the next. Forgive us for our shortcomings oh lord and guide and bless us all. Amen.

June 26
City Councilmember Rev. Fernando Cabrera

Father, we stand before you, and as council members we’re truly humble, and we find it a true privilege to serve in the capacity as council members. And, God, we just ask you today for your blessing in this budget in this budget that’s going to touch young people, seniors, the elderly, those who are hurting in our community, oh, God. We bless the Speaker. We bless the Mayor for the leadership. We bless all the chairs, and we bless, Lord, the staff that gave of themselves day and night to work so hard to make this day possible. We thank you for all these things in your mighty name, and everyone says … (Amen)

July 23
Reverend Antionettea Etienne from the Love Alive International Sanctuary of Praise, 1157 Lexington Avenue in the borough of Manhattan

As a non-denominational reverend, I call upon mother, father, everything God to instill the continued perseverance and determination of the Council Members to allow that their God instill in them the truth and the righteousness to protect New York and to achieve and overcome all the obstacles that are placed in our path, for we have many, Father God. Father God, touch in each and every person here from the top of their heads to the sole of their feet as they continue on in the work that you said that they must do in order to service the people that are so in need. So, Father God and I would just like to say thank you. Amen … and so it is.

August 13
Rabbi Joseph Potasnik from the New York Board of Rabbis and the Chaplain of the Fire Department of the City of New

Thank you, Public Advocate. Firstly, let me give a shout out to the New York City Youth Council that is here. Please know that one day you’ll be sitting down here and we’ll be up there. Please make it in the distant future. Secondly, I just want to take a moment to recognize my New York City Councilman Steve Levin who recently got married, and I think Steve will learn something that we all learned in law school, that marriage is defined as the loss of liberty in the pursuit of happiness. Thank you. Some years ago, a member of the Norwegian Parliament named Jornsen infuriated his constituents by voting for a particular measure. Many of them protested in front of his house, pelted rocks at his windows and then left singing the Norwegian National Anthem. What they didn’t realize was Jornsen had written the national anthem. The lesson is that there is a time when people may reject you for a particular position you’ve taken, but ultimately they will respect you when you are a person of principle. Let us all remember two words in our vocabulary. One is united, the other is untied. Interestingly, both are spelled with the exact same letters. The only difference is where you place the “I.” In life, when you only speak of “I” rather than “we” a relationship easily becomes untied, but where the “we” takes precedence, that relationship will remain united. So, may we always see each other as people of different faiths, different faces, different philosophies, but there comes that moment when we have to learn to sing that national anthem as members of one family. Amen.

Public Advocate Letitia James: Let us all say amen.

The Council: Amen.