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Prayer in the air: Faith community steps up its game for the Super Bowl

ST PAUL—In football, fans often find religion just before game-winning field goals or when the quarterback heaves up a Hail Mary pass.

But with Super Bowl LII to be held in Minneapolis next weekend, local faith leaders are reminding fans it doesn't hurt to swing by for confession, celebration and a recommitment to help the vulnerable in advance of the big game.

In downtown Minneapolis, Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church has already seen its Facebook post to that effect go viral following the 61-yard touchdown pass from Vikings quarterback Case Keenum to Stefon Diggs in the final moments of the Jan. 14 Vikings-Saints game.

"If you made any promises during the last 10 seconds, Sunday masses are at 8:30 a.m., 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.," says the post, which has been shared more than 10,000 times on Facebook alone.

For Vikings fans, the Minneapolis Miracle was divine, if short-lived, given their drubbing by the Philadelphia Eagles a week later.

Our Lady of Lourdes isn't the only house of worship hoping to channel the energy on the field into filling church pews. Four blocks from U.S. Bank Stadium, St. Olaf Catholic Church on Eighth Street has taken out print ads in the Downtown Journal and Southwest Journal and erected a large sign that says "SKOL" on its Second Avenue wall.

"We anticipate that we will have a lot more people coming in, and it will start this weekend through the Super Bowl," said Fran Rusciano Murnane, a St. Olaf's spokeswoman. "We're right on the way to the stadium, and we're connected by the skyway."

It's not all about fun and games. Beginning Feb. 1, St. Olaf will open to some 60 homeless residents who typically seek shelter at First Covenant Church, which sits within the security perimeter surrounding U.S. Bank Stadium.

Interfaith concert to help the homeless

From 2 to 4 p.m. on Jan. 28, some two-dozen faith leaders will gather at Westminster Presbyterian Church on Nicollet Mall, in the heart of the six-block Super Bowl Live fan festival, for a free interfaith concert celebration aimed at housing the homeless.

The Bold Hope in the North event, which is being put on in cooperation with the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee, is intended to boost donations to the Emergency Rental Assistance Program of Downtown Congregations to End Homelessness.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey will emcee the program, which includes two former Vikings stars — punter Greg Coleman and defensive end Mark Mullaney — as well as the Mill City District Singers, a Middle Eastern ensemble, the Klezmer Cabaret Orchestra and a spoken word artist, among others.

"It's a chance to do something concrete for those threatened with eviction," said the Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen, senior pastor at Westminster Presbyterian. "The program began last year, and after six months, 80 percent of the people we'd helped with one month's rent were still in their apartments. This is a much more effective and less expensive way to help the homeless, because once they're in a shelter, the costs skyrocket."

The interfaith coalition recently released a football-themed promotional video at westminstermpls.org that features Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu religious leaders, among others, suiting up in the Augsburg University locker rooms to toss a pigskin in full religious attire.

The 80-second video, which brought together 30 Twin Cities clerics for three hours of filming, includes Archbishop Bernard Hebda putting on eyeblack, Sri Ronur Murali Bhattar, chief priest of the Hindu Temple of Minnesota in Maple Grove, faking a block, and Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman of Temple Israel in Minneapolis acting as quarterback. Muslim cleric Imam Makram El-Amin, leader of Masjid An-Nur in North Minneapolis, catches her Hail Mary pass.

Spoiler alert: They all win.

"Zimmerman throws a Hail Mary!" yells the announcer. "You won't see a rabbi do that again anytime soon! Spectacular catch in the end zone! It's an interfaith touchdown!"

"It was quite a group," Hart-Andersen said. "It was humorous to us that it took the Super Bowl to gather all of us to do a funny video for a good cause. There's no reason why we can't continue now."

The St. Paul Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service

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