WASHINGTON – Nearly 72 hours into the reading of the entire Bible, kneeling pads were laid out with the U.S. Capitol as the backdrop for people of faith to pray that the nation and the Virginia Tech Hokies will prevail.
Students and other churchgoers kneeled around a long line-up of tables wrapped in American flags Wednesday night to praise God for the return of students to campus a week after the deadliest shooting rampage killed 33 people, and to pray for those students who are moving out and taking current grades and those who chose to finish their Spring semester and are beginning final exams this week.
"We believe God's Word is the answer to all of life's problems, no more so than when it brings comfort in a time of tragedy," said the Rev. Michael Hall, co-director of the 18th annual Bible Reading Marathon and executive director of the International Bible Reading Association. "And what you're seeing here today is not only the Bible being read for 90 hours but behind you, people are singing and praying in honor of the victims who died at Virginia Tech."
By Wednesday night, the 90-hour Bible marathon, which kicked off Sunday night, was into the gospel of John. The words of Jesus near his time of crucifixion were being projected from loud speakers down the national mall, where hundreds of people have been enjoying the warm spring weather.
"Everybody down there throwing frisbees and playing ball, they can hear – 14 blocks away, they can hear God's Word, at least for five days," said Hall.
After reading passages from the book of John, Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, said proclaiming the gospel in this way has a "powerful spiritual effect."
"It's easy for people to hear and [therefore] they have the opportunity to believe," she said.
One passerby, however, wasn't happy that the Word of God was ringing off the faces of government edifices.
In furor, Dan Ribaudo, 28, said the loud speakers coming from the steps of the U.S. Capitol symbolize "a single voice that drowns out all other voices" and that "we only understand one point of view and we're going to push it into the world."
The Rev. Rob Schenck, president of National Clergy Council, reminded the activist, who calmed down after trying to unplug the sound system, that the venue is "a quintessential public forum." He, too, can rent out the space for his own purposes but this week, the space is being used to simply read the Bible without commentary.
Schenck added that they are also there to celebrate religious freedom.
"There are very few nations that you can stand this near the seat of power and have freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion," said Hall, "and that's what we celebrate every year."
Over 500 volunteers have participated in the nonstop reading of the Bible over the last four days with Scripture being read in different translations and languages.
The marathon, which concludes Thursday at 2 p.m., leads to the National Day of Prayer on Thursday when millions around the nation are expected to participate through local prayer events.
The U. S. Capitol Bible Reading Marathon began in 1990, the year proclaimed by a Joint Congressional Resolution and Presidential Proclamation by President George H. W. Bush as the International Year of Bible Reading. The event serves to honor the Bible and the Holy Word of God, celebrate religious freedom and unite the diverse branches of Christianity around the Bible.