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Calls for prayer are ringing off the hook

9-13-01 Holy Name Cathedral....Interfaith Service Prayer Concern....Pauline Makarchuk75 Chicago prays under an ornate stained-glass window after service .....Kathleen Falsani story......Rich

9-13-01 Holy Name Cathedral....Interfaith Service of Prayer and Concern....Pauline Makarchuk,75, of Chicago, prays under an ornate stained-glass window after the service .....Kathleen Falsani story......Rich Hein/Sun-Times

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Updated: August 17, 2012 6:47AM

Gov. Pat Quinn has asked Illinois residents to pray for rain to help end the drought, and while I wasn’t there to hear him personally, I gather he was serious.

Marc Miller, state director of the Department of Natural Resources, echoed Quinn’s prayer request for drought relief, and even though there’s a passing thunderstorm crackling outside my window as I write this, you’ll have to pardon me if I’m not quite ready to give either of them credit.

This follows a two-week stretch here during which we were implored at least twice by the office of wayward Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. to keep him in our “thoughts and prayers during this difficult period.”

Maybe it’s the Tim Tebow effect, but my sense is that these public calls for prayer are coming at us at an ever-increasing clip this summer.

From the innocent young victims of some of Chicago’s summer gun violence to Derrick Rose’s injured knee, the requests have become almost constant for the public to “keep them in your prayers.”

It’s not that I mind exactly. I’m more than happy to take a knee and do my part, although I reserve the right to pick and choose who and what gets remembered in my prayers.

‘Say a little prayer’

Just plain remembering is another matter. It’s getting tough to keep track of everyone and everything for whom we are asked to “say a little prayer.”

Is this what it’s like to be a church pastor? Should each of us start keeping a list so that we don’t forget anybody at bedtime?

We all know that we are supposed to pray for our American servicemen and women overseas, although I’ll confess that was easier to keep at the forefront of my mind when my nephew was in Iraq.

And to pray for world peace, of course, just to cover your bases.

But are we still supposed to be praying for Sen. Mark Kirk, too, or is he sufficiently recovered from his stroke for all of us to now redirect our elected official prayers toward Jackson and his mysterious mood disorder?

And when Jennifer Hudson and her family said a public prayer for convicted killer William Balfour and his family at the conclusion of his trial, were we expected to join in?

Before his death, former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno asked everyone to pray for Jerry Sandusky’s sex abuse victims. Paterno’s family said they were still praying for them the night of Sandusky’s conviction.

Public figures chime in

Public calls for prayer are perhaps being outpaced only by public figures professing that someone else is in their thoughts and prayers.

For instance, Republican Congressman Joe Walsh has told us on separate occasions in recent weeks that his thoughts and prayers were with both Jackson and with his Democratic opponent Tammy Duckworth — although we can deduce from other remarks that Walsh has little use for either of them. I guess that’s a good reminder that a voodoo doll could be considered a form of prayer.

Don’t get the impression that I don’t believe in the power of prayer. I do. While I don’t consider myself religious, I try to pray regularly. It keeps me grounded, even if the results sometimes leave me wondering whether I am doing it correctly.

That’s why I call your attention to the example of beleaguered Fresno, Calif., where at the request of local Mayor Ashley Swearengin, churches have been collaborating for the past year on a quarterly Mayor’s Night of Prayer — the purpose of which is to actually pray for the city.

“The mayor said: We have a lot of challenges in Fresno. You know what? We need to pray,” explained Paul Haroutunian, a leader with ESA Love, Inc., a faith-based non-profit agency that is helping organize Fresno’s effort.

So the churches get folks together every three months and pray for an end to unemployment, for solutions to their gang problem, for ways to reduce the school drop-out rate. It’s not an official city event, but the mayor attends.

“We try to take tangible things and specifically pray for them,” Haroutunian said.

Maybe its time for Chicago or the state of Illinois to consider following suit. God knows we have big enough problems.

If you’re going to pray for rain, though, you might consider casting it in the form of redirecting some of that rain that’s threatening to wash out the London Olympics. That seems less selfish.

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