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Cedar Rapidians gather to pray on the National Day of Prayer

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa, (KWWL) -- It's a 70 year-old tradition signed into law by President Harry Truman to pray for the nation. The National Day of Prayer is celebrated on the first Thursday of May.

"From the very beginning of our nation, prayer has been woven into the fabric of our society, our country," Carl Gonder said, ""This is based on the understanding that our country was birthed in prayer and in reverence for God and for the Bible."

Gonder heads up the group Serve the City, the organizer of today's event. The group works to promote unity among Christian churches and pastors in the community.

As Christians gathered all around the country in parks, open spaces, churches and schools to pray, about 50 or more people came to Green Square Park to pray for the city, the state and the nation. It was about half of the crowd that previous years' prayer events drew but more than last year, when the pandemic caused it to be canceled.

Standing on the nation's heritage of religious freedom, 15 pastors prayed to God for protection for local, state and national leaders and first responders.

"Please protect them in their line of duty," Celeste Jaquis prayed. She is the executive director of House of Hope, a non-profit organization in Wellington Heights that supports women.

At the core of their prayers were Constitutional themes -- protection of their own religious freedoms -- in line with this year's theme: "Lord, pour out your love, life and liberty."

"Prepare us to persevere," Brandon Levering of Stonebridge Church prayed, "for we are not those who would shrink back and are destroyed, but those of faith, and preserve their souls."

Four of the 15 pastors who prayed today prayed in their native languages, which included French, Swahili and Spanish.

Ronald Figueroa is the pastor of Church of Restoration in Cedar Rapids. Born in El Salvador, he came to the United States when he was 8 years-old and followed in his father's footsteps to become a pastor.

"I pray for the police department, our community and especially those [who] are homeless," Figueroa said. "I love helping out people in everything I can."

Peter Shandakwa pastors Community Evangelical Pentecostal Church in Fairfax. He prayed in his native language of Swahili for the city of Cedar Rapids.

"We need to show the love of God outside," Shandakwa said.

One couple rode two and a half miles on their bicycles to come to the event to pray for the physical healing of the nation from COVID-19, and the social healing from what they said was a divided nation.

"That God would intervene and come into our land and make our land healthy and well again." Daniel Webb said.

His wife Karen prayed for "our state of Iowa, for leaders and for the world, health for everyone and for the return of Jesus."

Moving forward from this day, Gonder has high hopes.

"First and foremost, that God would answer our prayers for our city, our state and for our country," Gonder said, "and also that this will promote unity, something that couldn't come any other way."

Today, at Green Square Park, there was at least unity in the group's prayer requests.