Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez called on religious leaders from across various faiths to come together and lend spiritual support to the community through a virtual congregation Friday.
“Our people come from all over the world — we speak many languages, we look different, we practice different religions — but together we make up this wonderful community that we call the Rio Grande Valley,” Cortez said before giving seven religious leaders an opportunity to address the public via a Zoom video conference call.
COVID-19 has caused a lot of pain, misery and suffering to a lot of people as businesses are forced to shut down, workers are prohibited from working, and more and more restrictions are imposed on people like never before, Cortez said.
“It was for that reason, I have asked representatives from various religious communities to join me today so that together we may share a moment of prayer,” he said. “A community that prayers together, stays together. And together, today, we will ask for God’s blessings.”
Lolita Pagarani, a member of the Baha’i community in Hidalgo County, spoke first.
“In the Baha’i faith, we believe that we are all brothers and sisters. We are one humanity and in that spirit, I offer this prayer,” she said before starting a short invocation calling for unity.
Pastor Juan De La Garza, of Iglesia del Pueblo in Palmview, said in Spanish he was grateful to have the opportunity to participate and thanked the county judge.
“We don’t understand everything, and perhaps we’ll never understand, but your word says that all things, including all the negative things that come into our lives, help us,” De La Garza said, quoting biblical scripture. “Today we are clamoring for you. You are our refuge. You are our help in difficult and critical times, and at this moment, we join the judge and this county in the Rio Grande Valley, we join every official and leader, and we ask for your blessing and your guidance over every one of them.”
Imam Noor Ahmad, the former Imam of the McAllen Mosque, also prayed for everyone “putting their own lives at risk, as a soldier would in a battlefield on the front lines.”
“In our tradition we learn that everything in this world, even this world, is temporary,” he said. “Even the sicknesses, the misery, the calamities, whatever comes in this world to us from God, is temporary and this is only to test us.”
Ahmad said the pandemic has made one thing clear — “that we are all in need of a higher power.”
“This microscopic (virus) that cannot be seen with the naked eye has shaken the most powerful nations to (their) core and brought economies to a standstill,” he added.
Priest Acharya Kalyan Kumar, of the Hindu Temple, delivered most of his holy scriptures in Vedic chants.
He translated a few verses to English that said, “From ignorance lead me to the truth, from the darkness lead me to the light.”
Rabbi Nathan Farb, who will be joining Temple Emanuel this summer, also expressed gratitude in being included in the event.
“I look forward to a time when we can greet each other in person,” he said.
Farb asked for “strength and discipline to bear the difficulty of these times” and prayed that civic leaders “act with decisiveness and wisdom” and “be guided by the best of our scientific minds.”
He also asked for the “strength to endure the hardships of isolation, of emotional drain (and) of economic destruction.”
The Rev. Daniel E. Flores, bishop of the Diocese of Brownsville, said consolation could be found in biblical passages.
“We ask the lord to accompany us in mysterious ways and in ordinary ways in these difficult days as we walk together — as a community of different religious faiths, of different communities of belief — to assist one another, especially in those human needs, and it’s in that spirit that we pray,” he said.
Flores, like most who came before him, prayed for the sick, “those in the medical field who often feel tired or discouraged… those who work and pray anonymously in hospitals, in nursing homes and in hospice facilities… and those who prepare the food and wash the floors.”
Meanwhile, Pastor Joe Rambientos offered words of encouragement.
“My dear friends, something good is going to happen and come out of this ordeal that we’re in,” he said. “So dear friends, hang on to Jesus Christ, for he will bring us to the other side.”
Cortez agreed, offering his own uplifting words.
“We will survive this,” he said. “We will come out better for this, and we can show the whole world that the Rio Grande Valley (and) Hidalgo County are great communities.”