Praying for peace in Ferguson

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About 2 miles away, east on Chambers Road then south on West Florissant Avenue, police and protesters stood in an uneasy truce at the symbol of recent violence.

Police cars and officers in riot gear filled the parking lot of the burned out QuikTrip at West Florissant and Northwinds Estates Drive. Meanwhile, protesters held signs in front of the former QT, and crowds gathered in the middle of West Florissant and along the roadside as cars inched through with horns blaring.

The bystanders hooted and hollered, shouting in protest mainly and raising their arms in surrender — the gesture they say Michael Brown was making as he was shot to death by a Ferguson police officer Aug. 9

Officials say Brown, who was unarmed, tried to get the officer's gun in a struggle, then was shot as he fled.

The scene Aug. 11 was tense, but void of the violence perpetrated the previous night -- the looting of businesses and the inferno at the QT. The wounds of Brown's death and the violence of Aug. 10 run deep in this biracial community, 11 miles from downtown St. Louis. 

 

 

Against this backdrop, just 2 miles from the violence, members of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish did perhaps the only thing they could — they prayed. Led by their pastor, Father Robert Rosebrough, about 100 people gathered to pray the Rosary at the parish's Lady of Lourdes grotto, right next to their outdoor Stations of the Cross garden.

"As a community, we needed to come together in prayer," said parishioner Cathy Cunningham, who described the community as "very sad. We just have to put it in Jesus' hands, and he will heal us."

Cunningham was among four parish women who hatched the Rosary idea while driving home Aug. 10 from St. Joseph Parish in Manchester. Cunningham, Dorothy Frese, Jeanne Baer and Bernadette Dalton had gone there to see Dalton receive an award at the Catholic Women's Recognition Ceremony.

"In the car, Cathy Cunningham said the community needs to heal; that's basically how it happened," Frese said. "We had to do something. It just got rolling."

Baer, who is the parish's pastoral associate, bounced the idea off Father Rosebrough, who was immediately onboard. "Prayer is needed," he said.

Director of Youth Ministry Jeff Finnegan suggested the grotto for a venue, and the event was off and running. An email blast to parishioners and notices on social media and the BTC website got the word out.

On cue, just before the service, the sky opened and drenched all with rain. "Baptismal waters," Father Rosebrough called it.

Also, on cue, rain stopped for the 30-minute service, which featured the singing and guitar playing of parishioner Jeff Mazdra.

For the Rosary, Father Rosebrough chose the Luminous Mysteries, which St. John Paul II added to the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries in his pontificate. He opted for the Luminous as he walked earlier in the day on West Florissant past the boarded-up businesses from the violence of the previous night.

"I just kept coming back to the Luminous Mysteries," Father Rosebrough said. "It seemed like it was right on target. It calls us to do something."

In addition to the Rosary at night, Father Rosebrough also did something that day on his walk along West Florissant. He stopped briefly at ground zero, the QT — the main site of violence.

"I just quietly blessed the place," he said. "People have invested money there, people got injured last night, and people don't realize that employees there are now out of a job for several months. I just asked the Lord to help them heal."

After two people were shot overnight Aug. 12 and 13, the Cabinet of Interfaith Partnership of Greater St. Louis, chaired by Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, issued a statement in support of Brown's family and the city of Ferguson.

"We must examine the tragic events taking place in the St. Louis area, seek to understand 'Why?' and work toward dismantling systemic racism," the statement read. "Until the causes are addressed and rectified, there will be no change.

"As we ask the hard questions and work for lasting solutions, the Cabinet calls for all people to pray for calm and peace and to be part of healing."

The healing will come in time — after an investigation into the shooting of Brown and also an examination of the deeper issues that precipitated the violence. Now, though, the wounds are raw.

"We don't have the answers," Father Rosebrough said. "We just ask for His presence and consolation; that's what people need."

And if a sign also was needed that The Man upstairs heard the prayers, there was that, too. At the end of the service, the rays of the setting sun broke through the clouds above Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, in a starburst pattern — streams of light emanating from a central place.

"God's rays," Mazdra said. 

 

 


 

 

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