GUEST COLUMNIST | A city smolders: No choice but to keep investing

In the days since the fatal shooting by police of Michael Brown in Ferguson, images in the media have been riveting and heartbreaking. There have been confrontations with police, destruction and looting of stores. And then there are those glimpses of fire, the raging fire.

As I drove through the traffic jam on West Florissant Avenue on the morning of Aug. 10, I saw the damage outside the familiar Sam's Meat Market. The roof of the QuickTrip, one of my regular fueling stops, was still smoldering, just like our broken hearts. As Lesley McSpadden, Michael's mother, said, the looting and violence are disrespectful of her son's memory.

These scenes in the communities of Ferguson and Dellwood reflect the current state of our country and world. We are living in a paradoxical era comparable to Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities." These are wonderful times and these are horrible times. There is an abundance of wisdom and advancement in the quality of life, yet there is no shortage of foolishness.

What we are witnessing is reminiscent of those fateful times in the 1960s and '70s when parts of our cities erupted in flames. For many, the wounds haven't fully healed; the underlying smoldering still exists. Opportunity and untapped potential abound. Yet, there is no shortage of disparity in the widening gap between haves and have-nots.

Systemic and personal racism have taken on less overt but no less sinister forms in the past few decades. None of our institutions are immune. It is found in government, including law enforcement and the criminal justice system; business and industry; and even in churches, regardless of denomination. These violations of the human spirit are being seen in the present generation: reactionary, disrespectful, destructive behavior within oneself, families and community. Where do we go from here? How are these insipid cycles ever broken?

Locally, our Interfaith Partnership of Greater St. Louis (of which Archbishop Robert J. Carlson is chairman), is publically imploring us to keep asking the hard questions and diligently move toward solutions (see page 2). This must include prayer for peace as a means to healing. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish got it right Aug. 11 when parishioners gathered around the church's Lourdes grotto to pray the Rosary.

Our prayer should lead us to sound investing in our young people. We must inspire them to maintain and build their relationship with God for a greater sense of self and their role in this community and the larger world. This is the common legacy that has us praying to make us instruments of the Lord's proactive, fruit-producing peace.

I unabashedly herald the good news of faith-based programs like Kujenga, which means "build" in Swahili, and a recent young adult retreat, both sponsored by the St. Charles Lwanga Center. These are among the programs we should support to help our young people build a culture free of violence and full of love.

We have no choice but to keep investing.

Father Art Cavitt is the executive director of the St. Charles Lwanga Center in St. Louis, which is supported by the Annual Catholic Appeal. He is in residence at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Ferguson. 

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