(WASHINGTON) — When the Rev. Dr. Luis León delivers the benediction Monday at President Obama’s inauguration, his message will focus on uniting a divided nation.
“My sense is that as a country we’re not talking to each other,” León told ABC News. “We don’t trust each other. We’ve forgotten that we have more that binds us together than separates us. My prayer is that we capture that sense of being one nation.”
León, an Episcopal priest at St. John’s Church across from the White House in Washington, D.C., will do double duty on Inauguration Day. He will host Obama for a prayer service before the inauguration, as well as give the benediction.
St. John’s has held prayer services for U.S. presidents on Inauguration Day 11 times. Franklin Roosevelt started the tradition.
“It doesn’t get old,” León said. “We’ve never had any bloodletting as one government passes the baton except maybe during the Civil War after Lincoln was elected.”
The church has a special pew in the back commemorating the spot where President Abraham Lincoln sat when he attended services at St. John’s. A plaque next to the pew says Lincoln always came alone and left before the service ended to walk back to the White House.
So how does a minister prepare for a presidential inauguration? Leon has been at St. John’s since 1994. He delivered the invocation for President George W. Bush’s second inauguration in 2005, as U.S. troops were fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We were all conscious of how many troops we had there,” León said. “We were beginning to feel divided then. I think it’s gotten worse.”
The word León said he kept using during that invocation was “gratitude,” hoping to remind Americans to be thankful for the blessings they had, rather than dwelling on the nation’s troubles.
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