- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Pope Francis held up a black T-shirt adorned with an American flag last week on YouTube and urged young people to journey to Washington, D.C., this month.

“Wear this T-shirt in unison, and respond to the great restlessness,” Francis said in a video announcement. “I invite you to a great gathering. Jesus is waiting for you.”

The T-shirt is paraphernalia for an event called Together 2016, which aims to be one of the biggest gatherings of Christians in American history.

The goal of Together 2016 is to get 1 million Christians to journey to the National Mall on July 16 for a day of unifying prayer. Nick Hall, the founder of the movement, hopes to unite people of all kinds.

“Jesus welcomes you whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican or an independent. He welcomes you whether you’re young or old. Jesus is an equal-opportunity employer,” said Mr. Hall, an evangelical preacher who lives in Minneapolis.

Dozens of major Christian musicians and speakers from many denominations will perform on a stage near the Washington Monument. Among them are Francis Chan, LeCrae, Crowder, Hillsong, Passion, Ravi Zacharias, Christine Caine and Kirk Franklin.

“If we’re singing the same songs together, then we can’t yell at each other,” said Matt Maher, a Catholic musician and eight-time Grammy Award nominee who will perform July 16.

Together 2016 will be held in the midst of a presidential campaign season and after divisive U.S. Supreme Court rulings on homosexuality and abortion.

“I think in this year, there’s so much going on in our country right now. Everybody is tired of the real sense of division that exists. I think in some ways, it’s kind of gridlocked D.C.,” said Mr. Maher. “Obviously as Christians, we believe in the importance of prayer. Things can change when we take time to pray.”

Thousands of footsteps on the Mall usually leave stark impressions in American history books.

The last time 1 million people were on the Mall was during President Obama’s first inauguration in 2009. A 2004 pro-choice rally is rumored to have drawn more than 1 million, as did a 1997 Christian men’s event, Stand in the Gap, which also focused on prayer and reconciliation. A half-million people gathered to protest the Vietnam War in 1969, and 250,000 were on the Mall to hear the Rev. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.

“The Mall is where movements are recognized. The Mall is a place where that desire to stand for something publicly is sort of demonstrated to the whole country,” said Mr. Maher.

About 300,000 people have committed to come for Together 2016, so the only open area for the event is the lawn beside the Washington Monument. If thousands register, the National Park Service will open more space on the Mall. Mr. Hall said he isn’t worried about hitting the 1 million mark.

“Because it is a next-generation-geared event, I think the audience itself doesn’t really plan ahead too much,” he said.

Christian youth groups, families and individuals are taking various forms of transportation.

“There’s buses chartered, planes are chartered. Trains coming from the East Coast have been booked out like an entire couple of cars. People are coming from all over the world,” said Mr. Hall. “I’m sure there will be a lot of beat-up Honda Civics coming as well.”

Starting at 9 a.m. July 16, seven jumbo screens and speaker systems will boom over the Mall with a focus on prayer. Four consecutive sessions will emphasize learning, sharing, loving and resetting together. The event will wrap up around 9 p.m.

Before Together 2016, Christians will have worship nights and other opportunities to serve.

“We don’t want to just talk about our faith; we want to put feet to it,” said Mr. Hall.

Participants can sort and fold clothes at the Good Mojo thrift store in Norfolk, Virginia, on July 13 and package meals for the Bridge Church Food Pantry in Annapolis, Maryland, on July 14, for example. All 3,583 volunteer spots are available for registration at AwakenMyCity.com.

Together 2016 aims to instill Christians with a spirit of service to others that will change the world, said Jennie Allen, speaker and founder of the women’s ministry, the IF Gathering.

“I’m a big believer in the local church. These bigger things in a way they bring us together to remind us of what’s important,” said Mrs. Allen.

Mr. Hall urged participants to register online at Reset2016.com. Above all, he implores Americans to show up.

“Raise money. Start a GoFundMe page. Do whatever you have to do to get to the National Mall on July 16, believing that God has invited you, God is calling you and that the time is now for the church to rally to meet Jesus,” Mr. Hall said.

• Emma Patton can be reached at epatton@washingtontimes.com.

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