For the past 13 years, the Rev. Allen F. Robinson has stood outside Baltimore's City Hall on Palm Sunday and asked God to protect the city he loves and the people who live and work in it.
Some years have been better for Baltimore than others. There have been times when evidence has seemed in short supply that Robinson's prayers were being heard.
Nonetheless on Sunday, Robinson stood with the leaders of more than half a dozen other churches, their congregants and several Baltimore leaders, including Mayor Catherine E. Pugh, to confer their 14th annual blessing on the city. They asked God to guide Baltimore's police officers, paramedics and firefighters, the unemployed, the city's leaders, crime victims and children.
"In times of great uncertainty and trepidation, people find comfort in prayer and in knowing that they're not alone," said Robinson, rector of St. James Episcopal Church. "You never know when gathering together will galvanize folk into believing that things could be better."
It was the kind of morning seemingly made for fostering optimism. The sunlight was so bright it was almost blinding, and it lit up every nook and crevice of City Hall's ornate, white granite facade. Many of the estimated 75 people in attendance shed their coats as they listened to or participated in the blessing. A few held the palm fronds that in the Christian faith commemorate Jesus' entry into Jerusalem.
Each congregation was represented by a child or teenager, who prayed aloud for help in combating social ills ranging from unemployment to poverty to crime.
"I am only 7 years old," Madison Howard said, "but I believe, God, that you do hear me when I pray. Hatred and racism is bad for our city. We're all supposed to be friends and family. If there was no hatred and racism, Baltimore would be the best city in the world to live in."
Pugh asked the attendees for help in providing services for Baltimore's 76,000 unemployed people, 3,000 homeless residents, and 12,500 teens seeking summer jobs. Perhaps, she said, the congregations might donate their collection plates from one Sunday to help the city raise the $18 million required to provide full youth employment.
"We need the help of all of you and of the religious community," Pugh said. "We can't do this work ourselves."
Paul Smith attended the blessing on behalf of the Church of the Redeemer, where he is a youth minister. He said he was pleased that several elected officials attended the service, including City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young; Baltimore City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby; her husband, Del. Nick J. Mosby; and Baltimore City Council members Mary Pat Clarke and Robert Stokes.
"It's fabulous to see the faith community gathering in the same place with the politicians," Smith said. "The young people are the glue binding us all together."
Gabrielle Jones, 13, representing Greater Hope Church of God in Christ, said after the service that events such as the annual blessing can potentially do real good, even if the benefits aren't always immediate or obvious.
"It strengthens the city," she said. "It helps people to stay safe instead of going downhill."
As Marilyn Mosby listened to the children offering their prayers, she said she thought of her own two daughters, who are about a year older and a year younger than Madison.
"That 7-year-old healed my heart," Mosby said. "She wasn't reading. Those words came straight from her heart. I was like, 'Wow.'"