Archbishop Hebda at Mass for peace: Pray for healing of community divisions

| July 8, 2016 | 5 Comments
Sharon James-Abba of St. Paul listens to Archbishop Bernard Hebda during Mass for the Preservation of Peace and Justice at the Cathedral of St. Paul July 8. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Sharon James-Abba of St. Paul listens to Archbishop Bernard Hebda during the Mass for the Preservation of Peace and Justice at the Cathedral of St. Paul July 8. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Archbishop Bernard Hebda focused on the need for unity and healing in the Twin Cities and country during a Mass for peace and justice July 8.

“Sacred Scripture reminds us that nothing is impossible with God,” he said at the Mass, which drew about 250 people to the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul.

“We come before him at this Eucharist to ask him to heal the divisions that weaken us as community,” he said, “that he strengthen us when we tend to lose hope, that he enlighten us when we fail to see his image in one another, and that he use us, his Church, as the field hospital he desires to tend the wounds of those who are hurting at this difficult time.”

The Mass was offered in response to the July 6 shooting death of St. Paul resident Philando Castile by a police officer. During the liturgy, Archbishop Hebda prayed for the people most affected by Castile’s death.

Castile, who was black, was shot in his car four times by a police officer in Falcon Heights during a 9 p.m. traffic stop. Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, was in the passenger seat and broadcasted the aftermath of the shooting via Facebook Live. Her 4-year-old daughter was also with them. Castile died about 20 minutes later at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis.

According to Diamond’s explanation on the video, Castile, 32, had a firearm, was licensed to carry, and had told the officer. The distressed-sounding officer who shot him, Jeronimo Yanez, can be heard saying, “I told him not to reach for it. I told him to get his hand off it.”

Reynolds said, “You told him to get his ID, sir, his driver’s license.”

Yanez and his partner, Joseph Kauser, who was also at the scene, are St. Anthony Police Department officers. They are on paid administrative leave during an investigation by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. A statement since released by Yanez’s attorney said the officer reacted to the presence of a gun, not to Castile’s race.

Castile’s shooting came a day after police shot and killed a black man selling CDs outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The shooting deaths sparked Black Lives Matter demonstrations across the country, including in Dallas, where, on July 7, a sniper shot 11 police officers, killing five, and also wounded a civilian.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda, center, reads a prayer during Mass for the Preservation of Peace and Justice at the Cathedral of St. Paul July 8. At left is Deacon Phillip Stewart. Concelebrating were Father John Ubel, rector of the Cathedral, Msgr. Aloysius Callaghan, rector of the St. Paul Seminary, and Father Michael Creagan, pastor of St. Joseph in West St. Paul. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Archbishop Bernard Hebda, center, reads a prayer during Mass for the Preservation of Peace and Justice at the Cathedral of St. Paul July 8. At left is Deacon Phillip Stewart. Concelebrating were Father John Ubel, rector of the Cathedral, Msgr. Aloysius Callaghan, rector of the St. Paul Seminary, and Father Michael Creagan, pastor of St. Joseph in West St. Paul. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

The Mass, which was held during the Cathedral’s regular 5:15 p.m. daily liturgy, was a special Mass for the Preservation of Peace and Justice found in the Roman Missal. The prayers focused on peace, unity, and hope amid darkness and suffering. The Gospel reading was the Beatitudes.

Archbishop Hebda began his homily with the first part of 1 Corinthians 12:26: “If one part of the body suffers, all the parts suffer with it,” and tied it to those suffering from the deaths of Castile and the Dallas officers.

He said people feel the pain of those who are treated differently because of their race or country of origin, and of police officers “who feel that they are being misjudged and underappreciated.”

“Feeling that pain in our community and beyond, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, helpless, anxious, and yet it is precisely in those moments that we know our own weakness that we have the opportunity to make known the love and strength of our God, a God that offered a great hope to his people at a time when they were hopeless,” he said.

He said that for people of faith, Mass is “the way we know best” to come before God, “to seek his consolation, his guidance, his strength, asking him to use us as repairers of the breach and restorers of streets to live in.”

He urged the faithful to work toward peace and unity by first examining their consciences and asking for forgiveness for the times they have caused division and misjudged others.

He pointed to a pastoral letter on racism Archbishop Emeritus Harry Flynn wrote in 2003.

“He noted that resisting racism requires that we examine our basic instincts and assumptions about race, how these assumptions shape our daily lives,” Archbishop Hebda said. “Are we able to see Jesus in people whose skin color is different than ours?”

Archbishop Hebda reminded the congregation that it is the Year of Mercy and “we have a God that not only forgives us, he bestows his Spirit upon us . . . and leads us on the path of righteousness and in the way of peace. He can truly make all things new.”

At the end of Mass, Archbishop Hebda asked people to continue to pray for community leaders as they make difficult decisions.

Concelebrating the Mass were Father John Ubel, Cathedral rector; Msgr. Aloysius Callaghan, rector of the St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul; and Father Michael Creagan, pastor of St. Joseph in West St. Paul. Assisting at the Mass was Deacon Phil Stewart. The liturgy concluded with the hymn “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”

Eleni Demissie of the Cathedral of St. Paul prays during Mass for the Preservation of Peace and Justice at the Cathedral of St. Paul July 8. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Eleni Demissie of the Cathedral of St. Paul prays during Mass for the Preservation of Peace and Justice at the Cathedral of St. Paul July 8. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Eleni Demissie, a health care data analysist and Cathedral parishioner, said she regularly attends daily Mass at the Cathedral, but it was meaningful to have that evening’s liturgy respond to Castile’s death.

“I’m saddened by what’s going on right now,” she said. “It’s really a privilege to be able to offer up whatever we’re going through. One thing I know to do is pray, so I’m glad to be able to contribute that way.”

Asked whether being a woman of color affected the way she responded to Castile’s death, she said, “I approach it as a Christian.”

Sitting a few pews behind Demissie was Sharon James-Abba, who was wearing a white T-shirt with “Philando Castile” printed on the front.

She said she received the T-shirt the night before at a vigil organized by Black Lives Matter that began outside J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School in St. Paul, where Castile worked as a cafeteria supervisor, and evolved into a protest at the governor’s mansion six blocks away. Wearing the T-shirt was a sign of support, she said.

James-Abba, who is Baptist and lives near the Cathedral, said she heard about the Mass on the news and was looking for a place to be quiet.

“It’s just too much,” she said of Castile’s death and other violence in the city and country. As a black woman, mother and grandmother, the recent events made a deep emotional impact on her.

“I just needed to come and hear something uplifting,” she said of the Mass.

Cathedral parishioner Andrena Guines said the Mass for peace and justice drew three times the number of the Cathedral’s regular Friday evening Massgoers.

An IT business systems analyst, Guines said she was also at the vigil at the school and protest in front of the governor’s mansion. A black woman, she said she experiences racism daily.

“I think a lot of people in the Church, and not just the Twin Cities, they are afraid to have the hard conversations about racism and the effect that it has on people on a daily basis, regardless of their profession,” she said. “I applaud Archbishop Hebda for addressing the issue head on and dealing with it. The liturgy today reflected his objective, which was to bring us together and have a sense of peace.”

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  • Charles C.

    Many thanks to the Archbishop for offering a Mass for peace and healing. Very sound move.

    But then, as a friend of mine says, things went sideways.

    Consider his remarks on racism:

    “He said people feel the pain of those who are treated differently because of their race . . . .”

    ““He noted that resisting racism requires that we examine our basic instincts and assumptions about race, how these assumptions shape our daily lives,” Archbishop Hebda said. “Are we able to see Jesus in people whose skin color is different than ours?” ”

    And exactly what, Archbishop, does racism have to do with this? Or do you agree with the Governor that Mr. Castile would not have been shot except for his skin color?

    According to the police radio broadcast, the stop was made because the officer noticed that Mr. Castile matched the description of a gunman in an armed robbery of a convenience store a couple of blocks away at roughly the same time of day. The video of the armed robbery was released the day before the shooting.

    The background audio at the time of the shooting has the officer saying:

    Officer:…”I told him not to reach for it. I told him to get his hand off it.”

    So, where’s the evidence of racism, Archbishop? By reinforcing the claim of racism, the fear and distrust Blacks have toward law enforcement is strengthened, resulting in more officer deaths as we have seen. It creates the impression that the shooting officer was influenced by racism. It also increases the fear and distrust Whites have of Blacks, further separating the two races. That’s exactly the opposite result of the goal stated in the Mass.

    “He urged the faithful to work toward peace and unity by first examining their consciences and asking for forgiveness for the times they have caused division and misjudged others.”

    You may want to set the example for us, Archbishop.

    P.s. to The Catholic Spirit staff. Was anything gained by interviewing only Black women for the article? Are they the only ones suffering? And, when God is referred to as “Him, He, or His,” is it no longer proper to capitalize the “H?”

    • Gary

      Mr C how many white people are shot at traffic stops? The conversation between the police dispatcher and the officer included a description of the driver looking like a suspect in a robbery (broad nose) but we find out that was a mistake and the drivers life was taken because of fear. I think that fits the pattern of
      many of these killings. It is by definition – racism – treating someone differently because of the color of his skin.

      • Charles C.

        Dear Gary,

        Thanks for replying and asking the question. You seem interested in statistics. Statistics can be misleading and incomplete, but I’ll offer one which seems to relate to your question. Remember though, you’re asking for national data, and that data doesn’t exist. Not every agency reports to the FBI, and unless you want to fund me, I’m not going to write to every law enforcement agency in the country (and many probably won’t answer).

        “Based on a study conducted by the Washington Post, in 2015 approximately 990 people were shot and killed by the police. Of those shot, 494 were white and 258 were black, with the remainder being of other races.”

        But as FBI Director Comey said in February, 2015:

        “Not long after riots broke out in Ferguson late last summer, I asked my staff to tell me how many people shot by police were African-American in this country. I wanted to see trends. I wanted to see information. They couldn’t give it to me, and it wasn’t their fault. Demographic data regarding officer-involved shootings is not consistently reported to us through our Uniform Crime Reporting Program. Because reporting is voluntary, our data is incomplete and therefore, in the aggregate, unreliable.

        “I recently listened to a thoughtful big city police chief express his frustration with that lack of reliable data. He said he didn’t know whether the Ferguson police shot one person a week, one a year, or one a century, and that in the absence of good data, “all we get are ideological thunderbolts, when what we need are ideological agnostics who use information to try to solve problems.” He’s right.”

        So leaving statistics aside for now, what have we got on Mr. Castile’s death? The police radio conversation indicates that the initial stop was made because the officer believed the driver matched the description of an armed robber. Remember that the stop occurred four blocks from where the robbery occurred, and was the day after the video showing the armed robbers was released. If you see racism in the stop, I’d like to know why you think that, what evidence you might have.

        After the stop, there was the shooting. We know that Mr. Castile had a gun. There is some question about whether the gun was visible to the officer making the stop. Do you know?

        A few seconds after the shooting, the officer is recorded as saying:

        Officer:…”I told him not to reach for it. I told him to get his hand off it.”

        What was the “it?” Could it have been Mr. Castile’s gun? Besides, in any kind of stop, when the officer says not to reach for something, to get your hand off it, failure to follow instructions is very threatening, especially if the officer believes he is dealing with an armed robbery suspect.

        Now, as to racism. What evidence do you have that Mr. Castile was treated differently because of the color of his skin? If you’re charging the officer with racism which caused a death, shouldn’t there be some evidence? Besides, you may want to consider changing your definition of racism a little. Even the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) treats people differently because of their skin color. And what would the result be if a White person attempted to join the New Black Panthers?

        By the way, do you agree with the position taken by many that only Whites can be racists because they are the ones with institutional power? That’s been taught for over 20 years at one prestigious law school which I know about. I’m curious about your position on it.

    • Nancy

      Charles,
      Thank you for your astute observations regarding this article. I was unable to attend this Mass. If the reporter’s characterization of the Mass is correct and exhaustive, then it seems the Mass was slanted and I am grateful circumstances prevented me from attending.

      I cannot reconcile the governor, our president, and media repeatedly concluding the officer was racist based upon the video initiated after shots were fired and without more information and an investigation. The death of Mr. Castile was horrendous and very sad. Yet we must have a thorough investigation before we make firm conclusions.

      They express surprise they are preceived as anti-law enforcement and throw token statements of support such as, ‘most officers are good and perform their job well’, to convince the public they are supportive. Yet in the next breath they say a complete overhaul of the criminal justice system and the way we do policing must occur. So “most officers do a good job, therefore we must change how our police are hired, trained and investigated”? Similar in logic, or lack there of, is that police should be trained to be understanding of “the community” just as they were trained to respond differently to those experiencing a mental health crisis. So the community wants to be treated as if they are not fully capable of rational thinking and actions?

      Politicians, citizens and Black Lives Matter are asking for the police to receive even more training so they can adapt police policy and procedures to better fit the black community members. Do we then add on additional training so they can adapt their policies and procedures for the Hmong-American community members too? How about Somali-American community members? How about when responding to neighborhoods with citizens most prominently of Polish heritage? We can go on and on. How many years would this training be so police officers can be adaptive enough to respond to any neighborhood or be hired by any community police force across our nation? Perhaps there is a need for our varied community members in our natIon to learn state statutes, what mandates are required to be carried out and how we citizens can respond to lawful orders.

      As far as statistics, one does indeed wonder why a greater percentage of black persons are searched by police? The claim is made and the only conclusion entertained is that it is due to racial bias. Is it all bias on the part of the officer or could the responses and actions, or lack of compliance have something to contribute to the outcome?

      There was a time in the ’90s when a judge wanted numbers gathered for how many black persons remained in jail for misdemeanor charges on the weekends. The reason for the endeavor was to show racial disparity or unfairly burdening the poor or indigent. What was never taken into consideration was that ‘bench warrants’ – issued when a person fails to show up for their court appearance — automatically are “hold without bail” until the person makes a ‘first appearance’, which would have been on the next business day.

      We need to look at things deeply and thoroughly before accusing someone as ‘racist’ and it is inexusable and disgusting when our state and national leaders make these accusations of the good men and women in law enforcement when they have little comprehension of the duties, risks, statutes and mandates of the job or full information and facts of a particular incident.

      • Charles C.

        Dear Nancy,

        You’re quite right (and I wish I would have thought of it) to say that if the problem is a few officers then overhauling the system is unnecessary and entails risks of causing more problems.

        While wandering around the net I ran across an interesting statistic from Philadelphia:

        “Black and Hispanic police officers are more likely to fire a gun at blacks than white officers. This is according to a Department of Justice report in 2015 about the Philadelphia Police Department, and is further confirmed that by a study conducted by University of Pennsylvania criminologist Greg Ridgeway in 2015 that determined black cops were 3.3 times more likely to fire a gun than other cops at a crime scene. ”

        The Ridgway study was of the New York police department. The abstract presents this finding:

        “The study uses data from the New York City Police Department on 291 officers involved in 106 officer-involved shootings adjudicated between 2004 and 2006. Black officers were 3.3 times and officers rapidly accumulating negative marks in their files were 3.1 times more likely to shoot than other officers. Officers who started their police career later in life were less likely to shoot. The results indicate that officer features related to discharging a firearm are identifiable.”

        I’m not presenting that information to condemn black officers or exonerate white ones. What I think it points out is what you mentioned; there has to be a lot more fact gathering and discussion before we start throwing around charges of white racism which only polarize the groups and do nothing to solve the problem.