In February, 2023 in the midst of a variety of troubling events in the nation and the world, a group of Asbury University students in Wilmore Kentucky began a revival to pray for unity among all people.
What happened then gained the attention of all but the most hardened non-believers. The first weekend an estimated 50,000 people visited the small town of 6000 residents to participate in the revival. Soon, visitors from Canada, Japan, Singapore, and the Netherlands came, and students from 200 campuses, including Texas A & M, Baylor, Indiana Wesleyan, and LSU, joined the revival, which continued day and night for 16 days!
Mark Whitworth, an Asbury vice-president, said, “We are all seeking God. It’s not about our own agendas,” adding that students and faculty went out of their way to welcome people who had traveled from other parts of the country and beyond.
One student described the revival a “cross-cultural, intergenerational experience,” and expressed amazement seeing so many people of different generations and backgrounds worshiping and singing together. Another said that the experience “just felt like God really saw me.” A graduate student remarked that the revival was successful because those who attended showed what he termed “radical humility,” something quite opposite from “what our world tells us about the hierarchy of classes.”
In a TV interview, Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan reacted to the revival as follows:
“This is extraordinarily good news. What perks me up is that this was all unplanned. This was all spontaneous. This was innovative. This was grassroots. This wasn’t something choreographed or anticipated. This [was] just sincere, genuine students who felt the need for prayer, God’s word, companionship and faith and . . . were driven to keep at it, to persevere in prayer, as Jesus tells us to in the Gospel.”
The Cardinal, a trained historian, then compared the revival to foundational events in the United States: “In a moment of faith, this is how America kind of came to be. The historians say that’s the first time Americans looked around and said, ‘We’re a people. We’re something different. We are one nation under God.’ So, maybe this is going to . . . spark some type of religious revival in the country that everybody kind of admits we need. Our founding fathers knew this: that without some religion, they didn’t quite care which one, without some faith in religion, democracy was always going to be in peril.”
Dolan concluded by commenting on the meaning of the (just beginning) Lenten season to Christians: “We’ve marked ourselves saying, ‘I’m a sinner. I stand in need of God’s grace and mercy. I’m not giving up on Him. He is not giving up on me and I’m going to start 40 days of prayer and self-denial and outreach and love to others [that] can rekindle in me that religious fire that I know is deep down within. That’s the meaning of ashes. That’s the invitation of Lent.”
The significance of the Cardinal’s remarks should not go unnoticed. Here was a leader of the Catholic Church expressing admiration and praise for Protestant students’ and educators’ love of God and desire for unity. Given the sometimes quiet yet often vocal suspicion and animosity that has for five centuries characterized Catholic leaders’ view of Protestants and vice versa, Dolan’s kind words are, like the revival itself, inspirational.
Taken together, the revival and Dolan’s reaction to it offer two much needed reminders: That the love of Jesus that all Christians share is infinitely more important than the ideas that divide them. And that the measure of our love for Jesus is the love we show for one another.
Copyright © 2023 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved