In Ferguson, fear plays into the devil's hands

The parishes are only about six miles apart, but events on the evening of Sept. 8 made the distance seem vast.

At St. Sabina in Florissant, a team of first-grade girls from the school met counterparts from St. Ferdinand in a soccer game, chasing the ball in a group or not paying attention at all as first-graders are wont to do. Parents sat on lawn chairs and encouraged players from the sideline.

At Blessed Teresa of Calcutta in Ferguson, parishioners gathered for a Rosary in the parish's Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto, the fifth consecutive week it has hosted a Rosary in the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting death a few miles away. About 60 people sat on folding chairs and kept track on rosary beads.

Of course, the vibe at each venue was different -- the frivolity of kid's soccer vs. the seriousness of prayer. Still, the events seemed related; certainly, the Rosary had more poignancy this time around.

Just two days prior, gunfire interrupted the St. Sabina vs. St. Ferdinand game at the Blessed Teresa field, sending players, coaches and parents scrambling for cover. A dispute across the street escalated into shots being fired and individuals chasing each other on Chambers Road, which runs along parish property but is separated by a parking lot from the small field below the grotto.

Ferguson police responded, but the perpetrators were gone by the time they arrived.

The incident was "isolated," as Blessed Teresa pastor Father Robert "Rosy" Rosebrough noted, but it struck a nerve, coming on the heels of the unrest and violence following Brown's death, and it traumatized children and adults at the soccer game. Blessed Teresa principal Addie Govero also described it as "a little too close for comfort."

Rosebrough gave Govero high marks for informing parents of the incident before they saw it on the evening news. Govero also reviewed safety procedures with teachers when classes resumed Sept. 8; standard operating procedure in such cases.

Still, the school and parish are battling a perception issue, that Ferguson in its entirety is a lawless war zone. But that couldn't be further from the truth.

The violence related to Brown's death took place several weeks ago and about 2 miles from Blessed Teresa. It was centered in a quarter-mile stretch of West Florissant Avenue, where traffic has returned to normal. Some businesses still have boarded windows, but most are open. Only a handful of protesters remain, whereas they numbered in the thousands at the height of the unrest.

The gunfire Sept. 6? It had nothing to do either with the violence or with Blessed Teresa; it just happened to occur nearby. After the Rosary on Sept. 8, people walked dogs or jogged in the neighborhood around Blessed Teresa, with nary a flak jacket in sight. Life went on as usual.

Blessed Teresa held a well-attended appreciation dinner on the night of the gunfire incident, but that isn't surprising. As public schools delayed the start of class last month because of the Brown-related violence, Blessed Teresa opened on schedule Aug. 14 and held a back-to-school event two nights before with 500 people in attendance. Our Lady of Guadalupe in Ferguson also opened school on schedule Aug. 20 and held the parish's Hispanic Festival as planned Aug. 17.

Likewise, soccer games will continue to be scheduled and played on the Blessed Teresa field, according to Father Rosebrough.

Counseling has been available for students at Blessed Teresa and at Guadalupe, and a counselor met with St. Sabina and St. Ferdinand players before the teams resumed play Sept. 8.

After the Rosary that night, Father Rosebrough talked about the importance of going on with life and not giving into fear, which plays into the devil's hands.

"What are we going to do as disciples?" Father Rosebrough asked. "How do you respond to the brokenness in people's lives? How do we respond with courage and confidence?"

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