Arizona is faced with a huge budget deficit, chronic immigration problems and growing pains from the population boom. The state sure could use a hug.
Scores of people from the civic, religious and political communities gathered at the Arizona Capitol on Sunday, the day before the legislative session’s start, to do exactly that: join hands in a symbolic embrace of the buildings housing the state government.
Before the high point of “Arizona Embrace: Prayers of Peace,” the crowd heard prayers from ministers, priests, rabbis, monks and a Havasupai medicine man.
“This is a way to infuse a message of friendship, inclusivity and peace,” said organizer Terri Mansfield. “It’s about solutions — we’re here to come together even if we don’t agree with each other on everything.”
During the prehug prayers, co-organizer Paul Eppinger of the Arizona InterFaith Movement found a parallel to the day’s event in the Bible.
At the famous Battle of Jericho, Joshua marched the Israelites around the city walls daily for six days. On the seventh day, they circled Jericho seven times and when the priests blew their ram’s horns, the walls crumbled, ensuring victory.
“They were hugging the city of Jericho for its defeat,” Eppinger said. “We are here today to embrace Arizona, and we want the walls to come tumbling down: the walls of prejudice, the walls of bigotry, the walls of hatred, the walls of misunderstanding.”
Scottsdale’s Dr. Gladys McGarey, a physician billed as the “Mother of Holistic Medicine,” said: “This is the way changes happen — one soul at a time.”
Among a handful of lawmakers attending was Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Mesa, who was grateful for the outpouring of goodwill.
“Hopefully, this will set a positive tone for the legislative session,” Anderson said. “Obviously, if people are in a cooperative mood it makes for easier facilitation of solutions to problems — and we have a few problems.”
Coincidentally, getting a head start on those problems at the same time was Gov. Janet Napolitano. As the 300 people prayed, sang and held hands outside the House of Representatives building, Napolitano reportedly was inside, rehearsing today’s State of the State address.
Anderson compared Arizona Embrace to the governor’s annual Interfaith Prayer Breakfast.
“It’s a chance for people to come together on some common ground, and create a good atmosphere going into the session,” Anderson said.