Circle the City with Love combats political rancor ahead of inauguration

by Sharon Abercrombie

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When Sr. Rita Petruziello organized Circle the City with Love, a meditation ritual, on a Cleveland bridge the day before the Republican National Convention last July as a spiritual antidote to what was becoming a divisive political campaign, she didn't foresee her idea turning into an international event.

But then something happened. The ritual — people holding hands and silently meditating for 30 minutes on the healing power of love and peace — prompted an outpouring of favorable reactions. Why stop with Cleveland?

Petruziello, 76, listened. Why stop, indeed, especially when the political campaign continued to bubble and fester with rancor against immigrants, health care, the LGBT community, environmental protection, and women?

So Petruziello, the retired founding director of River's Edge retreat center in Cleveland, set up a website inviting people everywhere to sign on to the ritual on the same day and at the same time on Jan. 15 "with the same intent to host a non-partisan, no-issue witness for love and peace." Wherever people were, they should begin meditating at 3 p.m. in their time zone.

An estimated 125 groups in 25 states and several foreign countries, including Guam, Australia, and Italy, did just that on Jan. 15 in an international Circle the Cities with Love event. Many events were affiliated with the Women's March on Washington and its sister marches protesting the election of Donald Trump, which are scheduled to be held in many U.S. cities on Jan. 21, the day after the presidential inauguration.

Columbus' Circle the City with Love event drew nearly 3,000 people, including former Gov. Ted Strickland.

The crowd was filled with young women, men, teens, middle-agers, and seniors alike braving the cold, cloudy winter day to march several city blocks in downtown Columbus to the Ohio Statehouse, where they sang songs, some to the beat of several drummers, and listened to speakers.

Those who will not attend the Women's March on Washington were invited to pin notes and letters voicing their hopes for a better world on the coats of those who will travel to the U.S. capital. At promptly 3 p.m., the group began circling the Statehouse. They ended up three deep, pouring out onto the sidewalks on Broad and High Streets, said Theresa Kempker, one of the participants.

Although Circle the Cities with Love was billed "as a non-partisan, no-issue event," people arrived with agendas and fears.

Kempker, who belongs to both St. Anthony Parish in Columbus and Simply Catholic, a small, independent house church with women presiders and married priests, told GSR she came to the march "to show others that they aren't alone and to show the nasty folks that there are a lot of us."

An active letter-writer and a teacher of immigrants, Kempker voiced concern for her daughter, who is transgender, once Trump takes office.

"We have friends overseas and are ready to get her out of the country to them to seek asylum, if it becomes even more unsafe to be a transgender woman in the U.S.," she said.

The plight of the environment worries her, as well. "It's just tragic and frustrating to see what happens when people disregard science, when they are too afraid to change their ways."

Mary Counter, a member of St. Thomas More Newman Center at the Ohio State University, is worried about the environment, too.

"We can't leave Clean Air standards as an option," she said. "I would certainly prefer that the birds not go extinct and that my asthma not get worse."

Counter, a political activist and marcher for most of her adult life, said Sunday's march was one of the best, most peaceful ones she has ever participated in. The numbers thrilled her, too.

"The more people who show up makes for a louder voice," she said. "We have to use people power to seek change."

She will travel to D.C. this weekend and said she wishes some of the young people she talked to were going, too, "but they told me their mothers wouldn't let them because Trump is so anti-democratic." She has also heard concerns about violence at the upcoming march.

Sunday was Judy Fasone's first march. A nurse educator and songwriter, Fasone, who is in her 60s, said she "needed to be here so I wouldn't feel so alone in this political craziness."

The high numbers of attendees was encouraging to her.

"It feels like Columbus is coming out of its complacency and is starting to wake up," she said.

Mary Relotto smiled when she saw a senior citizen wearing an original sash with buttons advocating passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. But the smile was tinged with sadness, too.

"It's still a shame we still have to be marching, but we need to do it because all groups need a platform," said Relotto, the director of Dames Bond, a career development agency that specializes in networking for women in central Ohio. "You can't just sit at home when the opportunity comes up."

A strong advocate for women getting into politics, Relotto has chartered two buses — "rolling workshops," she calls them — that will travel to D.C. on Saturday. On the buses, Mary Jo Kilroy, a former congresswoman from Columbus, and State Rep. Teresa Fedor will conduct sessions on how to do political advocacy and how to get involved in local politics. More than 5,000 Ohioans are expected to go to Washington for the march.

Sunday's sister city march might be over, but Circle the Cities with Love continues. The Dominican Sisters of Peace and Ohio Dominican University in Columbus will co-sponsor a Mass on Friday morning to pray for the country's incoming leaders. Following the liturgy, students, faculty, and Dominican Sisters of Peace will gather on the campus oval for a short hand-holding meditation based on Petruziello's ritual, said Kelly Litt, justice promotor for the Dominican Sisters of Peace. Albertus Magnus College in Connecticut, a sister Dominican school, will have a prayer service and a viewing of the inauguration.*

A special highlight of Ohio Dominican University's liturgy will be an original prayer, "Prayer for the Inauguration of Donald Trump," composed by Dominican Srs. Barbara Kane and Maria Beesing, who are members of the sisters' Peace and Nonviolence Committee*. It has been sent to all Dominican motherhouses and sister high schools:

Gracious, generous God and Creator of all, as we move into a new administration on this Inauguration Day, give us the grace to ...

Be Peace, when we are discouraged by the actions of our lawmakers, when we are confused by their words, when we are enraged by their indifference to the poor and to our world ...

Give us the strength to build peace by standing up for the marginalized, by lobbying and advocating for justice by listening and understanding, looking for common ground, rather than speaking out against.

Give us the wisdom to preach peace through our words of compassion and encouragement, throughout our writing, letters, petitions, blogs and, most importantly, through our actions.

*This paragraph has been updated to correct several errors.

[Sharon Abercrombie is a regular contributor to NCR's Eco Catholic blog.]