CATO — As the noon whistle blew in Cato on May 6, three members of St. Patrick’s Parish stood in the bright sunshine outside their church, each carrying a bell.
June Welling, Camille McNally and her mother, Helen Colonnese, were gathered to commemorate the 53rd annual National Day of Prayer by ringing bells and reading the 2004 Prayer for the Nation at noon. Members of St. Patrick’s community have been coming together to mark the National Day of Prayer for four years, according to Roberta Rolland, a parishioner who has coordinated the event in past years.
Many churches across the nation ring their bells at noon on May 6, but “we didn’t have a church bell, so we just brought all kinds of bells,” Rolland said. In the past, parishioners have gathered outside the church with cow bells, sleigh bells, school bells and any other bells they could get their hands on, she added.
Colonnese arrived with a string of decorative Christmas bells made for her by a grandchild; McNally brought a Santa bell that her daughter, Mary, had made for her out of a clay pot when she was in Girl Scouts; and Welling arrived with two sets of sleigh bells, which she estimated to be 80 or 90 years old.
“These are the bells that my dad had on the back of his horse when he drove a sleigh in the winter and a buggy in the summer,” Welling said.
Welling, Colonnese and McNally rang their bells 53 times, then prayed the Prayer for the Nation, as well as an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be. They also planned on attending a National Day of Prayer community service, which was to be held at the Meridian First Baptist Church that evening.
“It really is a neat tradition,” said Rolland, who had planned on attending the bell-ringing but was scheduled to work at the last minute. She enjoys the day because it’s not “just another Hallmark day.”
“Our government, our leaders are actually behind it,” she noted.
In 1775, the Continental Congress issued a proclamation that set aside a day of prayer for wisdom in forming a nation, and in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a day of humiliation, fasting and prayer. In 1952, President Harry Truman signed a joint resolution of Congress declaring an annual, national day of prayer, and in 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed an amendment to the law, permanently fixing the date of the event as the first Thursday of May each year, according to the official Web site of the National Day of Prayer.
The president signs a proclamation each year encouraging all Americans to pray on this day, and in 2003 all 50 state governors signed similar proclamations. Gov. George Pataki was among many governors to sign one this year, marking May 6, 2004, as a “Day of Prayer in the Empire State.”
“Whereas during these uncertain times and in the aftermath of tragic losses suffered by our State and Nation, it is fitting that New Yorkers join with people of all faiths to honor the legacy we share as a society whose strength is its inclusiveness based upon religiously inspired values and an enduring belief in religious freedom and all freedoms upon which this Nation is founded,” Pataki’s proclamation stated.
“For once you can actually pray in a public place because it’s the prayer of the nation and it’s a mandate by law that you can legally pray in a public place,” Rolland said.
McNally, Colonnese and Welling were disappointed that the bell-ringing and prayer at the church at noon did not draw a larger crowd, as it has in previous years, but felt that the cause was worthwhile.
“It’s a small crowd because it’s in the middle of the day. We’ve had as many as over 30 people. We all know that we need it, this world needs prayer, and intercessory prayer is very effective and it works, and I believe that God has blessed our nation and it’s one way of repaying him,” McNally said in an interview with the Catholic Courier several days earlier.
Colonnese said she enjoys both the noon activities and the evening community service.
“I think it’s nice. We all need to pray, that’s for sure. It’s just nice for the community to get together,” she said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information on the National Day of Prayer or to find out how to participate next year, visit www.nationaldayofprayer.org.