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Concord High mom prays outside school for peace each day

Last modified: 7/1/2013 12:47:36 PM
In an all-white outfit with a cross necklace bearing the word “Jesus,” Lizarda Urena stands atop the steps outside Concord High School for 15 minutes every morning, arms outstretched and reciting verses from the Bible, which she holds up in her left hand.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want,” she recites from Psalm 23, one of the two psalms she repeats from memory each morning. She’s been there every day since early February, after two bullets were found in a toilet in one of the school bathrooms.

Her purpose? To bring peace to the school and protect the students from harm.

“What I am doing here is for our peace and our love, because the Bible says love your neighbor as you love yourself, and when I’m here it symbolizes peace and love and care,” said Urena, who is originally from the Dominican Republic.

Urena, who has two children in 10th grade at Concord High, has been praying off school grounds for the protection of Concord High and all schools for the past two years. Beyond the school, she travels and street-preaches in Boston, New York and other cities. But one morning in February, she saw police cars pulling up to the school to respond to the discovery of the bullets, which had

been flushed down the toilet and never caused any harm. After that, she asked Principal Gene Connolly if she could pray on school property at the beginning of the day, and he assented.

“I asked Mr. Connolly, ‘Please, if you want our school to be protected, we don’t need a police car here, we need the grace of God here every morning,’ ” she said.

And, she noted, since she began praying, Concord High students have been safe. A report of a gun on campus earlier this month turned out to be a fabrication, and no students were harmed, she pointed out.

Connolly, for his part, said that her morning prayers don’t pose a problem or violate the separation of church and state because she’s not promoting or teaching religion to students. She is simply blessing the school for the day.

“She’s not teaching prayer; she’s not out there asking kids to come with (her),” he said. “She does not promote religion.”

Now that Urena is a regular part of the morning, most students don’t pay her much attention as they walk by on their way into the school. But when she started, a lot of students were confused or curious, and some made fun of her, said sophomore Harley Proulx. At first, he wasn’t sure what to think, but now he thinks what Urena does is cool.

“It takes guts to be able to stand up and do that every day,” he said.

His friend, Alex Christie, agreed.

“It’s not hurting me; it’s kind of nice that she does it,” he said.

But sophomore Maria Wilkinson said she doesn’t think Urena should be praying on school property. She has no problem with Urena’s religion, but thinks prayer at a public school is problematic.

“It’s not appropriate,” she said.

Urena asked that her children’s names not be used in this story for fear that other students might bully them. When she used to pray off campus, she would hand out cards with Christian sayings on them. Her children were pestered by some of their peers when they found out Urena was their mom. But overall, she said, the students are nice and polite to her.

Her voice carries across campus but is not overly disruptive when she recites her prayers. In addition to the two psalms, she calls out thanks to the Lord for bringing peace to the school. She holds up her hands as she shouts out, sometimes kneeling but always looking at the sky as she prays.

She chose to stand at the top of the steps each morning because a bird’s call led her there on her first day of prayer in February. When she arrived at the school that morning, she didn’t have a plan for where to pray. But she followed the singing and found a black crow perched on the concrete dome atop the steps. When she arrived, it flew away. To her, that was a sign that those steps were where she was supposed to stand.

Although Urena prays for protection, she does so with a tone of hope and joy rather than fear. She smiles widely as she discusses her mission and often ends her sentences with “Praise God!” Her goal, she says, is not to promote her religion but to spread God’s love and keep the school safe. “God doesn’t discriminate about people,” she says. “Just love each other in the name of Jesus.”

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @kronayne.)


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