By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service
As the General Assembly started the second half of its 2017 session, Virginia’s two Catholic bishops joined together Feb. 9 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 in Richmond for the Virginia Vespers service, which was led by Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo and Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge.
The event is sponsored by the Virginia Catholic Conference.
The evening’s message was unity. Bishop 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,” Bishop Burbidge said.
He said respect includes speaking to each other without “name calling” or “generalizations.”
“This is one of the most important things that Pope Francis is teaching the world is how to dialogue,” he added.
“He’s trying to remind us that it is OK within the church, within politics, to have different opinions,” Bishop Burbidge 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 congregation, 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.
Bishop Burbidge also made a reference to President Donald Trump’s temporary 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,” Bishop Burbidge said.
“Virginia Vespers was a great opportunity to come together and pray for civility and wisdom as important issues are advanced and resolved over the last couple weeks of the General Assembly session,” said Jeff Caruso, executive director of the Virginia Catholic Conference.
“We prayed for the unborn, immigrants, refugees, those living in poverty, and respect for religious freedom, and we hope that each of these prayer intentions will lead to just decisions as our elected officials consider legislation and the budget in these final weeks of session,” he said.