NEW YORK — Not long after the sun set in Washington D.C. Tuesday night, Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington joined President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool to honor the lives lost to COVID-19.
Cardinal Gregory led the ceremony with an invocation, in which he prayed for the lives lost to the virus.
“We pray for those who have died and the families and loved ones they have left behind. We do so not as strangers or disinterested persons, but as fellow citizens who share some limited portion of their grief and sorrow,” Cardinal Gregory said. “May our prayer this evening serve as a small expression of our national desire to comfort and strengthen those who have endured the loss of a loved one to this pandemic.”
The COVID-19 death toll in the United States was 401,174 as of Jan. 19, according to data compiled by John Hopkins University.
Cardinal Gregory also spoke about sorrow brought upon by the virus that “unites us to one another as a single people with compassionate hearts.”
“May our prayer strengthen our awareness of our common humanity and our national unity at a time when harmony is a balm that seeks to comfort and strengthen us as a single people facing a common threat that is no respecter of age, race, culture or gender,” he said.
Biden closed the ceremony with brief remarks. Afterwards, 400 pillars split along each side of the long, rectangular reflection pool came to light as Yolanda Adams sang a rendition of “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen. There were 400 lights to commemorate the more than 400,000 lives lost to COVID-19.
“To heal, we must remember. It’s hard sometimes to remember, but that’s how we heal. It’s important as a nation,” Biden said. “That’s why we’re here today. Between sundown and dusk let us shine the light in the darkness along the sacred pool of reflection to remember all who we have lost.”
Harris spoke before Biden and offered a brief message around unity.
“For many months, we have grieved by ourselves. Tonight, we grieve and begin healing together,” Harris said. “Though we may be physically separated, we the American people are United in spirit.”
Lorie Marie Key, a 29-year-old nurse in Livonia, sang “Amazing Grace” after Harris stepped down from the podium. She is known for singing the hymn after a shift change at St. Mary Mercy Hospital, which was captured on a video that went viral.
Biden opened his remarks by thanking Key, and nurses everywhere that have cared for patients through the pandemic.
“If there are any angels in heaven, they’re all nurses. We know from our family experience the courage and the pain you absorb for others. So, thank you,” Biden said.