Parishes heed bishops’ call to step up in prayer and action to end violence

| Matthew Davis and Jessica Trygstad | September 20, 2016 | 0 Comments

Father Paul Jarvis, center, high fives north Minneapolis resident Awil Ismail, who is Muslim, Sept. 18 as part of an effort to pray for the neighborhoods near St. Bridget, where Father Jarvis serves as associate pastor. Members of St. Bridget joined forces with members of New Creation Church, also in north Minneapolis, to pray for peace and meet residents of the neighborhood. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Father Paul Jarvis, center, high fives north Minneapolis resident Awil Ismail, who is Muslim, Sept. 18 as part of an effort to pray for the neighborhoods near St. Bridget, where Father Jarvis serves as associate pastor. Members of St. Bridget joined forces with members of New Creation Church, also in north Minneapolis, to pray for peace and meet residents of the neighborhood. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Throughout the summer, headlines across the country announced shooting deaths of black men at the hands of police officers. Some incidents spurred peaceful protests while others incited more violence, including the killing of police officers.

Many questions remain amid assertions of racism and injustice. But with encouragement from the U.S. bishops, many Catholics are starting conversations, fueled by prayer, to build their communities and seek an end to violence.

At St. Bridget in north Minneapolis on the afternoon of Sept. 11, a group of people circled around a table in the narthex. They were hunched over maps of north-side neighborhoods, determining where they would pray in the coming weeks and months.

In addition to signing up to canvass the neighborhood with prayer, people gathered in the church to hear messages of peace and calls to action from St. Bridget associate pastor Father Paul Jarvis and Pastor Paul Slack of New Creation Church, located about 2 miles south of St. Bridget. In recent weeks, the community has been rocked with shootings. Attendees lit 20 some candles to honor and remember victims of violence.

Telling the crowd of approximately 100 to commit to being “agents of peace,” Father Jarvis described the event as the beginning of a movement, guided by the Holy Spirit, to encourage people to get out of their comfort zones and start conversations with others who are different from themselves.

“We are not gathering as a white community, we are not gathering as a black community, we are not gathering as a Protestant community, we are not gathering as a Catholic community … we are gathering together as the community of the beloved God,” Father Jarvis said.

The event was the first of what organizers — starting at St. Bridget — hope will be many Come Together services that include prayer, Scripture, music, reflections and conversations. Although the prayer service had been planned for weeks in response to an uptick in summer shootings, it came at a poignant time. Just three days before, on Sept. 8, stray bullets struck Sojourner Truth Academy, the K-8 charter school across the street from St. Bridget, and several cars in the church parking lot, which the school’s staff uses during the week. No one was hurt, and law enforcement says the shootings were gang related.

Doris McNeal, who attends New Creation Church, thought the gathering’s intent was to honor a specific person who was killed. Although she didn’t realize it was for the community, ultimately, she honored her son, who was killed on his way home from a friend’s house in north Minneapolis 10 years ago. She called the ecumenical prayer service inspirational and spiritual.

“I thought it was something good, something we all could relate to,” said McNeal, 57. “I felt something in my spirit … it’s just happiness. I say happiness because my son is watching me, God is watching me, so I have to show action to what they’re seeing.”

McNeal and her husband, Carlos, planned to sign up to pray for the Near North neighborhood, where they live, and the Camden neighborhood, where their young nephews live. Members of both congregations signed up to pray for north Minneapolis neighborhoods, which they began Sept. 18.

Alex Schindler, St. Bridget’s director of youth ministry, doesn’t live in the area, but said violence is part of life for the children in her groups. She served as cantor for the prayer service and said that while the world is experiencing vast violence, peace efforts can start on the north side to improve the community.

“We have to be that peace in the world and get out of our doors,” she said, “whether it’s in Woodbury or Edina or north Minneapolis.”

The next Come Together is planned for 4 to 5:30 p.m. Oct. 23 at New Creation Church in Minneapolis. For more information about Come Together, call St. Bridget’s parish office at 612-529-7779 or visit https://www.facebook.com/Come-Together-Seeking-Gods-Peace-with-the-North-Side-1744204789158580/?fref=ts.

Lynette Graham of St. Peter Claver reacts to remarks by Archbishop Bernard Hebda during his homily Sept. 8. At left is Karen Johnson, wife of Deacon Fred Johnson. At right is Brendan Banteh and his daughter, Charlotte, who belong to St. Peter Claver. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Lynette Graham of St. Peter Claver reacts to remarks by Archbishop Bernard Hebda during his homily Sept. 8. At left is Karen Johnson, wife of Deacon Fred Johnson. At right is Brendan Banteh and his daughter, Charlotte, who belong to St. Peter Claver. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

In the spirit of St. Peter Claver

A crowd of people filled St. Peter Claver in St. Paul to pray for peace Sept. 8 in light of the racial tensions and violence this past summer.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda led the people in the ecumenical prayer service on the vigil of the National Day of Prayer for Peace in Our Communities. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called for the day of prayer on Sept. 9, the feast of St. Peter Claver, in response to police shootings involving black men locally and nationally during the summer.

“We got together this evening as a people of faith to begin a discussion,” Archbishop Hebda said in his homily. “I was reminded right before I came in, it’s a first step.”

He spoke of everyone’s need for one another as members of the mystical body of Christ, referencing the hymn sung for the responsorial psalm. The archbishop elaborated on how that need calls each person to respond to the other’s suffering.

“How important it is that we strive as best we can to begin to address some of that pain, that we begin to address some of the hurts that we weren’t even responsible for,” Archbishop Hebda said.

Living only blocks from St. Peter Claver and the Rondo neighborhood, Archbishop Hebda recalled his own experience of the impact of Philando Castile’s death July 6. Police officer Jeronimo Yanez shot Castile during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights. Black Lives Matter held a protest only days later on Interstate 94 near St. Peter Claver.

“Certainly, I know as you do that tension that we felt,” Archbishop Hebda said. “I heard in those days, most especially after the death of Mr. Castile, those sirens that seemed to be without end certainly on Summit Avenue.”

Awareness of racism and violence reached the U.S. bishops’ ears at large and prompted the formation of a committee led by Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta to guide the bishops in addressing these issues. An African American himself, Archbishop Gregory once visited St. Peter Claver, as Archbishop Hebda mentioned in his homily.

Pope Francis also has an awareness of the U.S.’s history of racial tensions, Archbishop Hebda told the congregation. The pontiff referenced Martin Luther King Jr. multiple times during his 2015 visit to Philadelphia, New York and Washington, D.C.

Archbishop Hebda said Pope Francis, “certainly understood how important it is that we address as a community any of that hatred that’s in our hearts, any of that prejudice that’s in our hearts.”

No one institution can tackle the problem, the archbishop expressed. He called the congregation to take a step forward.

“How important it is that we work together, we put our heads together, we put our hearts together, we put our hands together in prayer to begin to address this challenge,” Archbishop Hebda said.

Archbishop Hebda used the parish’s patron, St. Peter Claver, as an example for the congregation to follow in upholding the dignity of each person. The saint served as a Jesuit priest and cared for slaves from Africa on the ships that arrived in Cartagena, Spain.

“I suspect for all of those who were brought in bondage to Cartagena, who came to know that perfect Jesuit priest, that he made a difference in their lives,” Archbishop Hebda said.

The parish of St. Peter Claver began in the 1800s with the blessing of Archbishop John Ireland. From the beginning, St. Peter Claver served African American Catholics in St. Paul, which continues. Archbishop Hebda described St. Peter Claver as a place of inter-racial dialogue and a place where one can meet Christ.

“I’m so grateful as well for the wonderful way in which you have been able to model for our archdiocese, how it is that we can really engage one another in spite of differences of race or of culture,” Archbishop Hebda said, addressing the parishioners in particular.

Joining Archbishop Hebda, Bishop Andrew Cozzens and St. Peter Claver pastor Father Erich Rutten helped lead the prayer service. The Rev. Charles Gill, pastor of Pilgrim Baptist Church in St. Paul, also gave a message at the service; he exhorted the people to follow Archbishop Hebda’s call to dialogue and action. It starts with individual responsibility and turning to Christ.

“We ask that the Lord would show us with his loving mercy, the presence of sin in our lives, especially in that area of injustice or racism, prejudice,” Archbishop Hebda said. “If the Lord would lovingly show that to us so that we would at least know to ask for pardon. We also come before the Lord in prayer to ask for his wisdom.”

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