The National Day of Prayer with Catholics (A Protestant Goes Undercover)

By Anika Smith Published on May 7, 2015

I’m Anglican, but in a show of ecumenism, I was given a gracious invitation to the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC.

There were Catholic professionals from the world of business, politics and media, as well as religious orders represented at every table, some with two or three priests or nuns, others full up with friars and sisters. All were joking, smiling, laughing and beautiful.

On my right was an African-American Lay Dominican woman who loved talking about her church and her son, and was so excited when she recognized the brothers from her order sitting next to us that she rose like a balloon from our table to go talk with them.

On my left was a lay Knight of Malta, which I learned meant that he cared for the sick and led trips to Lourdes. I asked him what drew him to his order, and he told me his wife had once been very sick. They had traveled to Lourdes, and while she didn’t receive immediate healing, a retired doctor they met there recommended a course of action that led to her healing. “The people in the Order who took us to Lourdes were so kind and loving that I thought — I want some of that.” And so he became a Knight of Malta, Third Class, and found himself serving other pilgrims seeking healing in the famous fountain.

Healing is an interesting thing to bring up at a prayer breakfast where the opening speaker is paraplegic Texas governor Greg Abbott. A young man in a wheelchair at the table in front of me was listening closely to the governor giving his testimony. Abbot said that sometimes God answers our prayers in ways we don’t like, and the governor’s Texas cadence slowed even more as he described his prayers immediately following the accident — prayers for God’s strength — and how God answered not by healing his legs but by giving him challenges that made him stronger.

Governor Abbott also spoke about the political challenges American Christians are facing, particularly threats to religious freedom and the unborn. We will need prayer, he said, and God’s strength through these times. He credited his wife, Cecilia, for being “more than just my wife, my partner — my guide in my Catholic faith.” His words rang true to me, and the power of their love seemed magnified in the young couple holding hands at the table ahead of me.

These displays of faithfulness and sacrifice were all the more appropriate as Abbott was followed with a keynote address by Bishop Malone, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth. He spoke of the beauty of marriage and the holiness of the family, an institution established by God’s law and above man’s law. The theological richness of his vision, nourished by Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, was a feast for the Catholic married couples and at least one single evangelical in the audience.

The breakfast ended with Pope Francis’s representative to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, giving the closing prayer, with an invocation for the intercession of Mary. I offered my own prayer to the Lord in thanksgiving for the unity of the Holy Spirit, even across the Tiber.

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